USDA partners with Colorado Springs to support wildland firefighters

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Colorado Springs, CO - Today, the City of Colorado Springs and the USDA Forest Service announced plans to build a permanent airtanker base and new ramp at the Colorado Springs Airport – a move that will support aerial firefighting efforts in the Rocky Mountain Region and surrounding areas.


“The City of Colorado Springs is pleased to become the home of this new permanent airtanker base. We enthusiastically join our partners at the Colorado Springs Airport and the USDA Forest Service in the regional response to increasing forest fire activity,” said Mayor John Suthers. “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 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.”

On Jan. 24, the Forest Service signed a lease agreement with the Colorado Springs Airport. The agreement paves the way to begin construction on the project. By working together, both agencies will share the costs for construction and maintenance for the initiative, currently budgeted at approximately $20 million.

“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. “I am excited to see it unfold and to see what it will mean for supporting communities during peak fire year activity.”

The one-and-a-half-acre base will initially house six reload pits for any type of contracted airtanker, including Very Large Airtankers that can hold more than 5,000 gallons of retardant—making it the largest base in the region, with the ability to serve a 600-mile radius. The base will support even the largest airtankers and will allow multiple airtankers to reload at once. This will allow an increased amount of retardant to be sent to a wildfire faster and with greater efficiency. It will also help the firefighters on the ground and protect communities from the approaching threat of wildfire. By being able to service aircraft of all sizes and capabilities, the base will also reduce the total number of flights needed to fight a wildfire, reducing the risk to additional flight crews and other regions. 

The 600-mile radius includes Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. The base will also provide support to southern Montana, southeastern Idaho, eastern Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, western Iowa and western Missouri.

The eight-acre ramp will be located near the airport’s main 13,500-foot runway and adjacent to the U.S. Army-operated ramp. During the winter months, when the Forest Service is not using the ramp, the airport will use it as a de-icing area for commercial aircraft. 

The groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for spring 2020. Construction on the new base and ramp is set to begin in summer 2020, with completion and a ribbon cutting ceremony in 2021.  

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. The Department of Agriculture prioritized the Colorado Springs Airtanker Base as the one of the highest investments for Aviation Safety Modernization Projects, representing nearly one fourth of the $37.2 million budget. The City of Colorado Springs is providing additional funding through a partnership agreement. 

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