Colorado is in competition with other countries for forest fire fighting aircraft. Climate change makes this a big problem.

When wildfires ravaged Colorado and the western United States this past summer and fall, it was difficult to get planes and helicopters to drop water and dampers that can make the difference between a small fire and a massive, deadly fire.

Suddenly states are facing each other as federal emergency managers work to determine who needs the most help from heaven. The resource bottleneck is expected to worsen as climate change fuels a longer fire season filled with bigger and bigger fires.

That’s why Colorado lawmakers have agreed to spend tens of millions of dollars this year to improve the state’s access to wildfire plans and helicopters by extending leases. They also agreed to purchase a state-of-the-art fire fighting helicopter.

Colorado currently has only two firefighting aircraft. They are both one engine Pilatus PC-12s They can only track fires, not put them out.

“By owning our (our) aircraft, whether leased or purchased, we maintain operational control and make sure there is at least a certain amount of resources in Colorado,” said von Jones, head of the Wildlands division of the Colorado Department of Fire Protection. And control.

One proposal has already been approved by lawmakers, if it is signed by Gov. Jared Polis, raised current state contracts for two single-engine air carriers to 240 days from 150 at a cost of about $ 620,000. Two helicopters it took for the fire season will be available to Colorado for 230 days from 120 days, at a cost of $ 1.36 million.

State under Senate Bill 49, Will also add a 110-day contract, up from 75 days, to a large air carrier for $ 5.36 million.

A Type 2 helicopter heads toward the Grizzly Creek Fire north of Glenwood Springs, Friday, August 14, 2020 (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“The long-term lease gives us first priority in using (the aircraft),” the state senator said. Bob Rankin, Republican from Carbondale and state budget writer. “It’s really that simple. If we have to rent it out on a short-term basis, we’re really competing with other countries.”

Rankin, whose area was devastated by wildfires in 2020, says he is extremely concerned about having to compete with other nations for future air resources as the fires worsen. There is a sense of urgency.

“Dollars are expected to get out of the door as quickly as possible to prepare for the next wildfire season,” the state senator said. Dominic Moreno, Democrat for the City of Commerce and Chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. “I think this is the first time that the country has made a conscious effort in anticipation of the next wildfire season.”

Long decades are also important because massive wildfires are no longer limited to the summer months, said Jones, head of the Wildlands division. Compared to the late 1970s and early 1980s, Colorado primary fire season is now 78 to 84 days longer.

The East Annoying Fires, Cameron Peak, and Calwood were most active in October.

“Major fires are now raging in Colorado every month throughout the year,” Jones said. “A lot of those traditional models of wildland fires, whether for the aircraft or the firefighters themselves, were based on historical short-term fire seasons in the summer. We are looking forward to trying to convert all of our resources (that) we can – people, equipment, and aviation – into a year-round model.” .

Rapid air attack on fire can be the difference between docile event and disaster.

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Take the Elephant Butte Fire near Evergreen in June. A squadron of planes and helicopters extinguished the fire before it reached hundreds of surrounding homes.

Legislators also agreed Senate Bill 113, Which is allocating $ 30.8 million to purchase the “Firehawk” helicopter, which is a modified version of the Sikorsky S-70 “Black Hawk” helicopter. The purchase price of the aircraft is about $ 25 million, and the remaining funds will be used to operate it over the next few years.

“We’ve never made a purchase of this size before. We’ve expanded our aviation resources over the years, but I think based on last year’s experience, there has been an recognition that the country needs to be better prepared,” said Representative Julie McCluskey, De-Dillon. To her colleagues during a final meeting. “Something like Firehawk can be a real game-changer in being able to handle these fires early and quickly before they get out of hand.”

Pine Gulch fire near Grand Junction. (note)

Colorado’s two state-owned firefighting fleet is weak compared to other states.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, for example, has a fleet of more than 50 state-owned aircraft, including a mix of aircraft and helicopters. Reuters Reports Cal Fire aircraft can reach most fires within 20 minutes.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources has a fleet of 9 state-owned fire-fighting helicopters. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources also has a number of state-owned wildfire plans.

The Firehawk can cruise over 160 miles per hour, operate at high altitudes and carry 1,000 gallons of water. Another feature: It has an outdoor water tank rather than a bucket load, which means it can fly over homes and roads that must be evacuated when other fire fighting helicopters are used.

When not being used for firefighting, Firehawk can be deployed on search and rescue missions. It can also be sent to other states, which in turn will pay Colorado for the plane’s services.

“We are seeing more activity to acquire these resources, which means we can expect bigger and worse fire seasons in the future,” Moreno said.

This year, lawmakers in Colorado are also set to spend millions on efforts to mitigate fires, restore fire-damaged watersheds and boost a fund that can compensate local governments for their initial response to the fires.


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