Firefighting Planes Take Off For Training
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (CBS4)- Planes are in the air preparing for the upcoming wildfire season.
State lawmakers want Colorado to have its own aerial firefighting fleet ready to go for the peak wildfire season. The final details are being discussed and a bill could go to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature by the end of the legislative session.
These new developments come as the U.S. Department of the Interior believes the cost of fighting fires this summer could break the budget. Those costs based on the expected fire season will likely be almost $470 million more than budgeted.
Pilots launched firefighting training exercises in Cheyenne, Wyo. on Friday where some of the water drops happened over the border in Colorado.
This week’s windy weather kept planes grounded but as the gusts died down extra equipment was called in to get in as many practice runs as possible.
Those planes fly no more than 200 feet above the ground as they fly right into the wildfire where there is no time for mistakes.
“It’s especially challenging, we’re operating the airplane very close to its envelope, about 200 feet above the ground, we usually don’t fly that low,” said Wyoming Air National Guard Lt. Col. Todd Davis.
At the Wyoming Air National Guard station’s 153rd Airlift Wing, 200 pilots and air firefighters from around the nation prepared military C-130s for practice runs.
The planes hold up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant to drop on active fires. During the training exercise crews used water.
“It’s not a call we want to get but we are very happy to support it,” said Davis.
The pilots all must follow the lead plane which lets out a smoke signal alerting the planes where to drop the fire retardant.
“We’re seeing the dynamic effects of the fire so we can better change our tactics,” said U.S. Forest Service pilot Rick Gicla.
Gicla said the training provides a chance to get to know the men and women he’ll be working with.
“When they show up on a real fire with us they’re more comfortable with who we are as a lead plane person, we work with them, helps them feel confident in our abilities too. It’s a team effort,” said Gicla.
The past few years have been some of the busiest for aerial firefighting crews who have been called to help fight wildfires.