Forest Service partners with Colorado Springs for new air tanker base |

Forest Service partners with Colorado Springs for new air tanker base

An air tanker drops Phos-Chek fire retardant on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire, September 18, 2017 in Dillon. Phos-Chek remains in Mesa Cortina after the Buffalo Mountain Fire last week.
Hugh Carey /

The city of Colorado Springs and the USDA Forest Service have announced plans to build a permanent air tanker base at the Colorado Springs Airport on Friday, meant to support aerial firefighting efforts in the area.

“This project is a perfect example of how we can work within all levels of government to promote shared stewardship,” said USDA Acting Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien, in a release. “I am excited to see it unfold and to see what it will mean for supporting communities during peak fire year activity.”

On Jan. 24, the Forest Service signed a lease agreement with the Colorado Springs Airport to facilitate the project — a one-and-a-half acre, $20 million endeavor that will house six reload pits capable of handling any type of air tanker. Once operational, the base will serve a 600-mile radius from the airport, and will allow for more retardant to be sent to wildfires faster and more efficiently.

Congress awarded the Forest Service funding for the project as part of the 2018 Omnibus Bill that repurposed previous allocations to the agency’s Aviation Safety and Modernization Strategy project. The new air tanker base is one of the highest priorities for the project, representing nearly a fourth of the $37.2 million budget. The city of Colorado Springs is providing additional funding.

“The city of Colorado Springs is pleased to become the home of this new permanent air tanker base,” said Mayor John Suthers. “We enthusiastically join our partners at the Colorado Springs Airport and the USDA Forest Service in the regional response to increasing forest fire activity. We want to do everything we can to protect our beautiful state and our residents. As wildland firefighting continues to be a priority for western states, we continue to embrace our leadership role and we look forward to the completion of this vital asset. This base is something we’ve been working on for quite some time, and I want to commend our airport staff for their work in helping the project become a reality.”

The groundbreaking on the project is schedule for spring 2020, and the base is expected to be completed in 2021.

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