Colorado firefighting air corps could be in jeopardy due to cost of flood-damage repairs

Colorado firefighting air corps could be in jeopardy due to cost of flood-damage repairs

02 October 2013

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USA — DENVER – The damage to the state’s infrastructure from recent flooding could impact Colorado getting its own wildfire air fleet.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has set an April 1 deadline for recommendations from the Department of Public Safety about the state getting its own firefighting air corps.

Lawmakers on the Interim Committee for Wildfire Matters received a presentation Tuesday from Coulson Aviation about aircraft available for firefighting, including a helicopter equipped with an infrared camera.

“You’re up in the air at 130 miles per hour, from an airplane, looking down, trying to see through the smoke. That’s the standard operating procedure,” said CEO Wayne Coulson. “(This) has a thermal imaging camera on it, so we can see through the smoke.

He made his pitch to the committee by saying conventional air tactics could lead to air retardant being dropped on smoke, where the fire used to be. But the flames have spread elsewhere.

“How much would the state have to pay for something like this?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

“This aircraft is approximately $5,000 a day and $1,500 an hour,” said Coulson.

“Is that a reasonable price for firefighting from the air?” Zelinger asked Colorado Department of Public Safety Director Paul Cooke.

“It’s comparable with other types of helicopters of its type — a Type II helicopter,” said Cooke.

7NEWS also learned the state could get an empty C-130 aircraft for free from the federal government. The state would have to pay to have the aircraft equipped to drop fire retardant.

“How much would it cost to retrofit an empty C-130,” asked Zelinger.

“It’s between $6-and-$8 million,” said Coulson.

This past fire season, Colorado had a 120-day contract to borrow two single-engine air tankers and have them parked in the state.

The damage from last month’s flooding could delay the plan to for Colorado to buy its own firefighting aircraft.

“The flooding is going to impact the state general fund, just like any other disaster does,” said Cooke. “We have a lot of infrastructure to replace. It’s going to be very costly, so it’s the same pot of money.”

Even though his recommendations are not due until April 1, Cooke said he was hopeful he could get his analysis done by the end of the year, giving the the governor and legislature time to review his report and make legislative changes if necessary.

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