Global Supertanker is still in California while Colorado utilizes other aircraft


DENVER (KDVR) — Seventy-eight aircraft are helping combat nine different fire incidents around the state of Colorado, while the 747 Global Supertanker aircraft – capable of dropping 19,000 gallons of retardant – is helping combat wildfires in California, according to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

“California has got a need. (The Global Supertanker) is on a contract for the US Forest Service in California, so it’s doing good work there. It’s a plane that, if it becomes available, it could be used in Colorado,” said Larry Helmerick, the fire information coordinator for RMACC.

Helmerick said Colorado is accessing new resources every day – including seven of the 19 large airtankers that exist nationwide. 

“We’ve got the lion’s share of the large air tankers here in the Rocky Mountain area, specifically in Colorado,” he said.

Colorado might be able to access the Global Supertanker after Nov. 15 if its California contract is not extended, according to Vince Welbaum, the aviation unit chief for Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

“We have a call when needed agreement with Global Supertanker, so that aircraft can be utilized in Colorado. That is based upon the availability,” said Mike Morgan, the director of the Division of Fire Prevention and Control. “We have the ability. We just don’t have access to it right now.”

While Welbaum said any tankers would be helpful in Colorado, he also called the situation a double-edged sword.  There are various factors that determine what aircraft can be used and when, he said. 

Wind is one of them.

“A lot of these fires are really getting large when we have the windy days and there’s a limitation on aircraft to fly,” he said. “If we had everything we could possibly get, it would create more safety issues in the air potentially. So, we really have to tailor what it is that we want and need…depending on the tactical plan for the fire suppression.”

Helmerick said the East Troublesome fire is the top fire priority in the United States right now. A team of experts is managing decisions on where best to deploy the resources.

“The aircraft go wherever the need is,” said Helmerick, explaining that fire managers evaluate the values at risk.  “The fire managers look at this daily – and more often than that to determine which fire gets them and which fire needs them the most.”

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