Lack of Support Prevents Colorado Owned Air Tanker Fleet From Taking Flight
The idea of a state-owned firefighting air tanker fleet is still grounded as funding and support for the project remain lacking.
During the height of the Galena fire near Fort Collins last March, Colorado Senators Steve King (R-Grand Junction) and Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge) introduced a bill seeking to create a state owned firefighting tanker fleet.
King was concerned about the dwindling federal tanker fleet operated by the U.S. Forest Service. “You know they say that past performance is an indicator of future performance,” King said.
The Forest Service fleet has only a handful of heavy air tankers; however new contracts for bigger, turbine powered next generation air tankers were awarded earlier this year to bolster the small federal fleet. The U.S. Air Force also has a special unit of specially equipped C-130’s on standby to fight fires; however those are only put into service when all available civilian resources are in use.
King’s bill was ultimately adopted by the legislature, but no funding was allocated for it.
While attending the Western Governors Association meeting in July, Governor John Hickenlooper said the idea of a regional air tanker fleet was ‘floated’ by he and other western governors.
Now, according to the Durango Herald, the governor is now interested in backing a program to train ranchers and farmers as first responders to fight fires in remote areas before firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service can arrive.