Colorado’s Department of Public Safety is trying to figure out what, if anything, to do about acquiring aviation assets.
Wayne Coulson, the CEO of Coulson Aviation, made a presentation Tuesday to Colorado’s Interim Committee for Wildfire Matters about the use of aviation resources to combat wildfires. The Department of Public Safety is trying to figure out what, if anything, to do about acquiring aviation assets.
In June Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill, Senate Bill 245, that created the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps. The Corps is organized within the Department of Public Safety in the Division of Fire Prevention and Control. There was no money associated with the passage of the bill, so until funds are appropriated, it will exist in name only.
The military has been supplying numerous photos and some videos of their firefighting activities on the Black Forest Fire. Helicopters from the Colorado National Guard and Fort Carson as well as C-130 MAFFS air tankers are assisting firefighters on the ground. Here are one photo of aircraft taken on June 12 by military personnel. The DC-10 is not military, but is working under a contract with the U. S. Forest Service. Other photos of the military aircraft are on Wildfire Today.
The Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs is being used as a forward refueling point for the military helicopters working on the Black Forest Fire on the outskirts of the city. The helicopters being used are Chinooks, Lakotas, and Black Hawks.
It has been confirmed that the two MAFFS C-130s at Peterson Air Force Base have been activated. Wednesday morning the U.S. Forest Service issued a news release. Below is an excerpt:
…The MAFFS will be provided by the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. They will be based in Colorado Springs, Colorado and will begin flying wildfire suppression missions as soon as safe and effective operations can be established.
“We are experiencing an uptick in wildfire activity and we are mobilizing MAFFS to ensure that we have adequate air tanker capability as we confront explosive wildfire conditions in Colorado, New Mexico, and elsewhere in the West,” said Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. “Maintaining adequate aerial firefighting capability is critical to provide support to, and enhance the safety of, the firefighters on the ground who are working so hard to suppress wildfires that are threatening lives, homes, infrastructure, and valuable natural and cultural resources.”
Many of the residents in Colorado, New Mexico, California, Nevada, and Oregon would agree that yes, there has indeed been an “uptick” in fire activity.
This was an unusually quick activation of MAFFS. Usually fires destroy large numbers of acres and/or homes for several days before the C-130s get cranked up. However, only two of the eight MAFFS were activated.
In 2012 four MAFFS were activated on June 24, and four more, including the two at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, on June 29, three days after 347 homes were destroyed about seven miles from Peterson.
(Originally published at 11:06 p.m. MT, June 11, 2013)
In a briefing about the 7,500-acre Black Forest fire near Colorado Springs at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Terry Maketa, the El Paso County Sheriff, said Colorado’s Governor, John Hickenlooper, has activated the two Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) C-130 air tankers at Peterson Air Force Base. The Sheriff said the aircraft should be available by mid-morning Wednesday.
Those aircraft are operated by the 302nd Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve, rather than the state national guard like the other three units that have MAFFS, so it would be unusual for a governor to have the authority to activate them without going through the National Interagency Fire Center.
On Tuesday three major wildfires broke out in Colorado. Strong winds of over 30 mph at Grand Junction kept two SEATs from being able to take off to assist with the fires. However, high wind speeds at the fires may have made the air tankers ineffective even if they could have gotten off the ground.
On Wednesday Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill, Senate Bill 245, that created the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps. The Corps is organized within the Department of Public Safety in the Division of Fire Prevention and Control. There was no money associated with the passage of the bill, so until funds are appropriated, it will apparently exist in name only.
If the state does come up with some funding, according to the legislation:
The Division may purchase, acquire, lease, or contract for the provision of firefighting aircraft, facilities, equipment, and supplies for aerial firefighting; and retrofit, maintain, staff, operate, and support the firefighting aircraft or contract for the provision of those services.
You may remember that one of the sponsors of the Colorado bill, State Senator Steve King, had an idea to help defray some of the costs of the program:
Can you imagine what advertising value would be if you had a Colorado Rockies sign on the tail of slurry bomber?
So we sponsored a competition for designs showing potential advertising and asked our readers to vote on their preferred choice. The one below by Jerome Laval is the leader in the poll, which is still open.
Two of the four military units that provide military C-130 aircraft configured to serve as air tankers are conducting their annual training, certification, and recertification. Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs had their’s April 19-23 and Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne has chosen the week of May 5. The military Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) can help fill a need for a surge capacity when all of the privately owned contract air tankers are committed.
The 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson is the only Air Force Reserve organization that has an aerial fire fighting mission. The wing’s MAFFS program added one pilot, two navigators, two flight engineers and four loadmasters to the aerial fire fighting roster this year. Reserve aircrew members who support the MAFFS mission are volunteers, with each working to incorporate aerial fire fighting training into their required airdrop and tactical flying skill sets.
After it was first proposed on March 15 by two Colorado state lawmakers, the state continues to pursue the goal of acquiring a fleet of air tankers. Senate Bill 245 introduced by Senators Steve King and Cheri Jahn passed the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday on a 5-0 vote, and the next step is in the Appropriations Committee. That seven-member committee will decide if they want to fund the concept.
The bill would create a “Colorado Firefighting Air Corps” which if approved and funded would:
Purchase, acquire, lease or contract for the provision of firefighting aircraft, facilities, equipment, and supplies for aerial firefighting, and retrofit, maintain, staff, and support the firefighting aircraft or contract for the provision of those services.
The Cortez Journal interviewed someone whose name will be familiar to those who have been involved in aerial firefighting for a while, Tony Kern, who formerly headed the U.S. Forest Service aviation program. Here is an excerpt from their article:
The federal government has been studying its air tanker problem for a decade, but it isn’t getting more planes in the air, Kern said. And the planes that are in service are old.
Kern thinks federal failures create an opportunity for Colorado to position itself as an international hub for aerial firefighting technology.
“We can fly a smart bomb through Kim Jong-Il’s window, but we’re still throwing slurry down from 1950s technology into the wind over fires when our own citizens are at risk,” he said.
If you have several hours to kill, you can peruse the seven air tanker studies the federal government has commissioned and paid for since 1995. And if those are not enough for you, an eighth one, the AVID study, was completed at the end of 2012. We are waiting with bated breath for it to be released by the USFS.
Paul Filmer took some excellent photos of aircraft working on the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park west of Estes Park, Colorado, December 4, 2012. The photo above is the first one I can remember seeing of an air tanker dropping with snow in the background.
We thank Paul for allowing us to use his photos. You can see a couple of dozen more that photos he took December 4 at his web site. More information about the Fern Lake Fire can be found at Wildfire Today.