3:10pm

Wed June 25, 2014
Wildfires

Colorado’s State-Owned Firefighting Fleet Ready For Takeoff

Colorado’s own aerial firefighting fleet will soon be much bigger. Following Governor Hickenlooper’s May 12 signature on the bill authorizing a state-owned fleet, Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control has been busy contracting helicopters, single engine air tankers and early detection remote sensing aircraft.

Colorado already has two single engine air tankers based in Alamosa and Durango, ready to fight fires that break out across the state. With the additional funding provided by the Legislature, Paul Cooke, director of the state’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control, said more aircraft can now be placed under contract.

“We really believe the early detection aircraft is going to be a game changer, the remote sensing aircraft. We can identify fires earlier, get them resourced more quickly, keep them smaller,” Cooke said.

Funding for the state-owned fleet isn’t officially available until July 1. The Division has ready to go contracts for two Type 3 and one Type 2 helicopters that will be awarded the first of the month. Cook anticipates the helicopters should be available the week of July 7.

An MD-500 Type 2 helicopter. The state plans on contracting two similar size helicopters for Colorado's fleet.
Credit Wikipedia Commons/Public Domain

Bids for two early detection remote sensing aircraft have also been received. The Division will now go over the technical review of the bids before awarding contracts for the planes.

They state could also add more air assets to the fleet if needed.

“We’re monitoring conditions. We have the ability to bring an additional air tanker on relatively quickly should the conditions change, but right now we’re sitting pretty good,” Cooke said.

Once all the contracts are awarded there will be three helicopters, two remote sensing planes and possibly three or more single engine air tankers depending on conditions. the fleet will be placed strategically around the state.

Jennifer Jones with the National Interagency Fire Center, based in Idaho, said every additional state-owned resource is important to the overall ability of the U.S. Forest Service to fight fires across the country.

"The beauty of the wildland fire suppression system that we have in the United States is that local, state, and federal agencies all across the U.S. work together and share fire protection assets,” Jones said.