Firefighting Aircraft

A dry winter in the West inevitably leads to a dangerous fire season during the summer months. This fact is being borne out by wildland fires occurring earlier and more intensely than usual in the summer of 2012. Most notably, wildfires in New Mexico and Colorado are burning right now. The High Park Fire raging outside Fort Collins, Colo., has already claimed one life, 118 structures and more than 73 square miles — and it’s only 10 percent contained.

Fortunately, specialized firefighting aircraft are on hand to aid the fight against the massive blaze, especially since rain is not in the forecast.

These aircraft play a major role in fighting wildland fires, but the U.S. Forest Service has an inadequate fleet. For this reason, it relies on private aviation companies like Neptune Aviation to bolster the fleet during active fires. The Forest Service also generally uses aircraft only to fight fires that threaten homes rather than ones burning only in the wilderness.

Aircraft being used in the High Park Fire include the following:

  • Five heavy air tankers
  • Five single engine air tanker (SEAT)
  • 14 helicopters

The heavy air tankers, or “heavies,” are in high demand during fire season. They are expensive, but their impact is great.

  • Cost Forest Service an average of $10,000 per day
  • Make up 5 percent of Forest Service’s annual $2 billion firefighting budget
  • Hold 2,100 gallons of retardant

For more about the aircraft fighting the High Park Fire, read this report by KUNC’s Grace Hood.

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