BROOMFIELD, Colo. (KDVR) — Even as Colorado’s “fire season” is considered year-round, the U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday that firefighters and support personnel throughout the Rocky Mountain region are preparing for the 2023 fire year.

“It’s a wildfire year,” said Scott Headrick, forest aviation officer for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland.

Media were invited to witness the preparations Wednesday at the Jeffco Airtanker Base. Airtankers were not on the property because Colorado is lush with recent moisture. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be ready.

“That can change at any moment. If we get a warm day with some wind, that can go from confident to a big worry,” said Robby Cline, an airtanker specialist for the Rocky Mountain Region.

U.S. Forest Service attached to an outdoor structure in front of an evergreen tree
U.S. Forest Service sign (KDVR)

The Forest Service currently has around 18-20 contracted airtankers around the country, according to Headrick. He said there are some assisting with fires in Arizona, Texas and Florida.  

“We want them where the greatest need is, because there is only so many of them and we don’t want them sitting where they aren’t needed,” Headrick said.

If something were to pop up in Colorado and an airtanker was needed, they could be there in an hour and a half, Cline said. Headrick said the airtankers are mostly all former commercial airline passenger planes, so they can move quickly.

On average, they said there are usually 5,500 fires in Colorado each year. This year, they expect the same and will be ready. Headrick said states all over the country are at risk for wildfires.

“The West gets highlighted more due to the quantity and the size of the fires,” Headrick said.