By Jamie Leary

(CBS4)– Colorado is adding to its firefighting inventory with a new, powerful asset, reserved exclusively to assist Colorado with fires for years to come.

(credit: CBS)

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“This is an extremely beneficial tool for those large fires that are moving fast where we need a lot of retardant quickly where we’ve got high canopy, where we’re trying to get it down to the fire itself,” said Mike Morgan, Director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC).

Two pieces of legislation, Senate Bills 49 and 113, provided the funds to bring the exclusive 5-year contract with Neptune Aviation, to Colorado.

According to the DFPC, the aircraft is a British Aerospace Bae 146-200 aircraft, capable of carrying 3,000 gallons of fire retardant while cruising at over 400 knots at altitudes of up to 28,000 feet.

“This particular one as you can see is jet-propelled and so it’s much faster. Its ability to get across the state to emerging events is much more powerful than what we’ve been able to have in the past,” said Morgan. “I’m told this aircraft can be about anywhere in the state in about 30 to 40 minutes.”

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Morgan said the speed is a game-changer. Previously orders for additional tanker support could take hours- not to mention the time the aircraft took to get to the fires.

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Since the arrival of the large air tanker, it has supported 19 missions to fight fires across the state, including one about 30 minutes after the contract was signed.

Morgan says as fire seasons become longer and more intense, aerial support is more important than ever.

“We’re seeing fire seasons turn into fire years. Our fire seasons are lasting 70-80 days longer than they were in the ’70s. The fire behaviors we’re seeing, the wildland-urban interface issues, all of those things those threats, we’re working hard to adapt to those challenges.”

The addition of the air tanker will help to minimize some of the impacts.

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“And we’re just really trying to provide assets to them quickly that help them do their job to keep their communities safe, to keep the firefighters safe and do it in a way that you’re not bankrupting some local fire department to do that.”

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The legislation not only provided funding for the air tanker, it will also provide funding for a state-contracted Type-1 Helicopter, which Morgan says will arrive by next fire season. Additionally, SB-049 provides additional funding and support for local Fire Departments and Counties during the early stages of a wildfire incident.

Jamie Leary