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Jeffco Airtanker Base open and ready for wildfires

The base is usually open and fully staffed from April to November, but can open within hours if needed during the winter.

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — As Colorado sees more Red Flag Warnings and fires throughout the entire year, airtankers stand ready to fight the flames from the sky. The Jeffco Airtanker Base is now staffed seven days a week as fire danger increases moving into the summer.

"We’re just at kind of a consistent state of ready to go fight fire," said Scott Headrick, a Forest Aviation Officer with the U.S. Forest Service. "Today’s another Red Flag day. One of the multiples we’ve seen over the course of the spring. For us it’s all about the wind when it comes to firefighting, especially aerial firefighting."

The firefighting planes at the Jeffco Airtanker Base in Broomfield battled fires in Nebraska Thursday. They’re ready for wherever the next fire sparks.

"We want them where the work is needed," said Headrick. "There’s only a finite number of them throughout the system. We want them in places where they’re there to do the work."

The Jeffco Airtanker Base is usually open and fully staffed from April to November. This past year, they’ve had to come in and open it during months where fire is usually rare.

Including Dec. 30, 2021, when the Marshall Fire tore through cities just miles from the airport.

"We’ve fought fire in November, December, January. We have to be ready for it year around," said Headrick. "We opened for the Marshall Fire. We brought in two air tankers that we have on contract down in Texas."

The airplanes weren’t able to fly the day of the Marshall Fire because it was too windy. When they arrived from Texas the following day, the fire was mostly under control and snow was already moving in.

Only one plane ended up being used to fly an aerial supervision mission over the fire, not drop retardant. 

In 2021 the base dropped 300,000 gallons of retardant. The year before, they used a record 1.7 million gallons. This year, Headrick hopes the amount needed is lower, but he knows it’ll be ready whenever it’s needed.

"We’re looking at it more as a fire year," Headrick said. "The typical fire season has kind of gone away."

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