Air tanker base opens at Rifle Garfield airport

A $1.43 million single-engine air tanker (SEAT) base has opened at the Rifle Garfield County Airport, promising to speed up the ability of aircraft to fight area wildfires.

The station also will serve as a de-icing pad in winter and a fuel farm for use by general aircraft hosted by the fixed base operator, Atlantic Aviation, the county said in a news release Tuesday. The airport’s director, Brian Condie, said in the release the facility is the nation’s first dual-purpose SEAT base and de-icing pad.

County spokesperson Renelle Lott said the site includes a concrete pad, 5,000-gallon de-icing tank, 10,000-gallon evaporative pond for what she said is an environmentally friendly de-icing agent, fire-retardant mixing tanks and a rest area for fire personnel and pilots.

“It can refuel six air tankers (at once) and de-ice one large plane the size of a 737,” Lott said by email.

The facility will be used by the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit during wildfire season.

Adam Goeden, air tanker base manager for the Bureau of Land Management, said in the release that the base lets fire crews pump flame retardant, also called slurry, to an aircraft in as little as five minutes. Previously it took 10 to 15 minutes under a labor-intensive process to mix powder-based retardant near the runway.

The tankers also can be loaded with water if retardant isn’t required.

The station’s ability to accommodate six planes simultaneously will enable pilots to get back into the air and fighting fires more quickly.

Condie said the BLM told him tankers had been bottle-necked during large fires, able to fill just one tanker at a time. He approached county commissioners, who approved having the county pay for the new facility.

“It’s kind of a dream for the airport and county commissioners to include us,” Goeden said in the news release.


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