Colorado: bill introduced to provide firefighting aircraft

Two state senators in Colorado have introduced a bill in the legislature, Senate Bill 164, that would authorize the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) to acquire helicopters and air tankers for the newly created agency.

For the 2014 fire season the bill authorizes the acquisition by lease or contract of up to three helicopters, and in 2015 up to four “large aircraft”, presumably fixed wing air tankers. If they obtain three helicopters, one must be capable of “command and control” and another would be a Type 1 heavy ship that would have rappel ability and could carry up to 18 passengers. The air tankers must be capable of night flying operations.

The bill was introduced by President of the Senate Morgan Carroll and Senator Steve King on March 21, 11 days before the CFAC Director Paul Cooke is due to release a report on April Fools Day that would recommend the direction the new agency should take.

The bill that created the CFAC last year did not appropriate funds to operate the agency or acquire aircraft. The new bill just introduced does not yet specify a monetary amount, but it will be referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a fiscal note attachment and then sent to the Joint Budget Committee for recommendations on funding.

If the final version of the bill includes funding, getting it past Governor John Hickenlooper could be a challenge. He was quoted by the Durango Herald as expressing the belief that farmers and ranchers should be the first line of defense in fighting wildfires. However, the fact that one of the cosponsors of the bill is the President of the Senate is a sign that it has a chance of passing the legislature, and perhaps even overriding a veto.

Legislation to be introduced in Colorado would provide 4 firefighting helicopters and an air tanker

A Colorado state senator will be introducing legislation that would provide $9 million for four helicopters and an air tanker to suppress wildfires. A bill approved last year created the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) but failed to appropriate any funds to run the agency or acquire any aviation assets.

The legislation specifies that a contract be issued for one Type 1 air tanker or a very large air tanker and four helicopters.

(The rest of the story, including the permanent acquisition of four air tankers, is on Wildfire Today.)

Wayne Coulson makes presentation to Colorado government

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.

Thanks go out to Bean and Britt

Military aircraft on the Black Forest Fire

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.

Blackhawk
Blackhawk, June 12, 2013, Photo by Air Force Capt. Darin Overstreet

Air Force Academy: Forward Area Refueling Point

firefighting military helicopters
First Lt. Alicia Tigges, the officer in command of Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base, talks to a crew member from the National Guard Black Hawk helicopter at the Forward Area Refueling Point on the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo. Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters are fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)

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.

firefighting military helicopters
Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base, set up a forward area refueling point at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo. Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters are fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)
firefighting military helicopters
A Lakota helicopter fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., approaches the Forward Area Refueling Point set up by Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo. The helicopter is assisting in the fight of forest fires in the Black Forest area just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)
firefighting military helicopters
A Black Hawk helicopter fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., approaches a Forward Area Refueling Point set up by Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)
firefighting helicopters
A Black Hawk helicopter from the National Guard fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., departs the Forward Area Refueling Point set up by Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base set up at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)

Report: MAFFS at Peterson AFB activated

MAFFS test, Cheyenne, WY
MAFFS test, Cheyenne, WY, May 6, 2012 US Air National Guard photo by Tech Sgt Patricia Findley

(UPDATE at 10:30 a.m. MT, June 12, 2013)

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.

Today there are 15 large uncontained fires listed on the Situation Report, including three in Colorado. On June 23, 2012, the day the Waldo Canyon fire started west of Colorado Springs, there were eight large fires burning in Colorado and 16 uncontained large fires in the country. On June 26 when the Waldo Canyon Fire moved into Colorado Springs burning 347 homes and killing two people, there were 29 uncontained large fires burning in the United States.

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.

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(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.

Colorado creates Firefighting Air Corps

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.

In a related story, on Monday, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman signed into law LB 634, the Wildfire Control Act of 2013 which authorizes the state to contract for one Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT).

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.

Jerome Laval P3

 

 

Thanks go out to Bean

MAFFS annual training

MAFFS 2 training
A C-130 Hercules from the 302nd Airlift Wing drops a load of water April 22, 2013 near Fairplay, Colo during training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathan Federico) Click to enlarge.

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.