Durango Air Tanker Base Ready for Wildfire Season

June 12, 2023

The Durango Airtanker base houses firefighting and support crews that serve as a shared national resource when wildfire breaks out. Firefighting efforts generally require collaborating with multiple agencies including the Bureau of Land Management along with state, city, and county offices. This season provided the opportunity for the base to host its first “fly-in” since the pandemic. By Connor Shreve. This story is sponsored by Happy Pappy’s Pizza & Wings and Sky Ute Casino

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With fire season looming, crews at the Durango Air Tanker Base are making sure they're ready. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by Happy Pappy's Pizza and Wings and Sky Ute Casino. I'm Connor Shreve. As one of five major bases covering multiple states in the Rocky Mountain region, preparing for summer wildfire season involves lots of logistics.

As far as personnel, you know, we've got a lot of pre-season training, just going over our hand signals, preparing all the fire extinguishers, going over rescue procedures, and then also just getting all the tank farm and getting all the plumbing set. Making sure that we have the hoses out.

Assistant tanker base manager Dave Hautamaki says Multiple fires in the first week of operations last year required about 100,000 gallons of retardant. Compared to zero requests in the same time period this season, that slow start allowed the base to host a fly-in for the first time since the pandemic.

Just an opportunity for all of our agencies, Forest Service BLM, all of our cooperators, interagency partners, all to get together in a common spot and just bring in the aircraft. Everybody can get familiar with the aircraft and get familiar with the people that are working on those aircraft and just pass along knowledge about the aircraft and it's just a good way to get everybody together before we actually start getting a lot of fires going in the area.

Rocky Mountain Aerial supervisor, Lance Martin, says that can help cruise work faster and know what aircraft to request when fighting fires. The Durango Air Tanker Base serves large air tankers, planes like the C130 and 737, among others, which carry up to 3000 gallons of fire retardant. Hautamaki says when fires do break out in the area, the base can host up to six of those large tankers.

Our capabilities here, we can support anything that goes on in the Four Corners area. Just 'cause there's a geographic boundary, doesn't mean we can't provide services to that fire. It just needs to be ordered through the Rock Mountain, RMCC is what we call it. It's the Rock Mountain Coordination Center.

Another support crew housed at the air tanker base is Durango Heli-Tack. Squad leader Chase Dixon spent the spring getting new members up to their required 80 hours of training. Durango Heli-Tack prides itself on expediting response times.

And we're able to get not only eyes on that fire, but people on the ground, you know, within 15, 20 minutes at a time. Whereas if you're responding with a pickup truck or if you have to hike in, sometimes those operations can take a little longer. So we're a quick resource to get to IA fires, initial attack fires.

So even though it has been a slow start to the wildfire season, you can bet crews at the Durango Air Tanker base are ready to respond when the call comes. The base will remain open, prepared to respond to fires through September. Learn more about this and other storiesat Durangolocal.news. Thank you for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Connor Shreve.


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