USA — The Rifle-Garfield County Airport has won a statewide race to land a new research center to find the best ways to fight wildfires from the air, with researchers hoping to find new ways to fight a fire like the one in 1994 that left 14 firefighters dead on Storm King Mountain.
The new Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting is envisioned as a way to put Colorado at the cutting edge of fighting wildfires. It was created by the Legislature, which also authorized the State Fire Division to purchase or contract for aerial firefighting assets.
Several other locations hoped to host the center, including Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Montrose and Jefferson County, but when the final recommendations were presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper, Rifle came out on top.
We were fortunate to have a number of outstanding candidates to consider for the Center of Excellence, and it was a difficult decision with both urban and rural applicants, but Rifle and Garfield County stood out as the best choice, Hickenlooper said.
The Division of Fire Prevention and Control cited several reasons for the decision, including open lands nearby and many high-risk wildfire areas, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported.
Colorado River Fire Chief Mike Morgan Morgan said the airport is already home to an interagency fire station housing local, state and federal resources.
Its near and dear, he said. Many of us were there when 14 firefighters gave their lives in South Canyon, referring to the 1994 wildfire just west of Glenwood Springs on Storm King Mountain.
A rapid change in weather sent winds raging on Storm King in western Colorado, creating 100-foot flames. Firefighters were unable to escape, as a wall of fire raced up a hillside. Weather forecasting and poor communication were among reasons cited for the high death toll.
Colorado Mountain College, which offers a Fire Science Technology degree in Edwards, joined Colorado Northwestern Community College and Western Colorado Community College in supporting the location.
Its a fantastic opportunity for our students to be engaged with the research that is going on, said Rachel Pokrandt, dean of CMCs Rifle campus.