Colorado will patrol its forests and grasslands with two new wildfire-spotting aircraft this summer, hoping to find and extinguish flames before they explode into deadly megafires.
The planes are equipped with infrared camera that are sensitive enough to spot a campfire from 28,000 feet, says fire management officer Joe LoBiondo.
The planes are kept at Centennial Airport south of Denver. The location allows the planes to reach any part of the state in approximately 40 minutes.
The cost of the equipment and planes is approximately $9 million. LoBiondo says the cost is worth it, if the planes prevent even one wildfire like the Waldo Canyon fire or the Black Forest fire. Both killed two people and destroyed hundreds of homes.
Peterson Air Force Base is also preparing for wildfire season. They are doing MAFFS training through Monday.
The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System is a huge took in fighting wildfires.
They system equips military planes so they can make slurry drops during a fire. Slurry is a fire-retardant that slow a wildfire's advancement. The drops have been a crucial part of battling past wildfires.
A soggy May has lowered the wildfire risk in Colorado this season, but as residents of the state know all too well: you can never be too prepared.
Friday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will get a briefing on this year's wildfire season, and he'll hear about the state's level of preparedness.
A representative from El Paso County, Office of Emergency Management will be at the briefing as well. He's hoping to support the Protection Air Craft program, because Southern Colorado could benefit. The Air Crafts have infrared technology, which helps locate fires.
At Peterson Air Force Base, the C130s are already loaded up with the MAFFS system, which allows them to make those slurry drops that have proved crucial in battling past wildfires.
"It was indescribable to drive through the neighborhood. It looked like a war zone and it was really bad,” Mountain Shadows homeowner Megan Autrey said.
She remembers the Waldo Canyon Fire like it was yesterday.
She also remembers how she found out her house was one of two houses in her neighborhood that didn't burn to the ground.
“How and why? Everything around us from the back to the side and the front of the street was gone, so it was like, 'Why this one?'” Autrey said.
A big tool in fighting wildfires is the Modular Airborne FireFighting System, or MAFFS, which are military planes sent out to help.
Thursday was their annual training in Colorado Springs.
The U.S. Forest Service says since the Waldo Canyon Fire their process to request MAFFS assistance has been streamlined.
“If we have an emerging fire situation where it's critical for us to get the closest MAFF units available, we can make a specific request to the Pentagon. Which is what we did the case of the Black Forest,” U.S. Forest Service Spokesperson Kim Christensen said.
But they're hoping they won't have to use them in Colorado this fire season. The U.S. Forest Service is predicting an average or even below average threat due to the wet weather pattern that has drenched much of the state over the past couple of weeks. With half the month still to go, Colorado Springs is more than seven times over the usual level of precipitation for May; Pueblo is more than five times over.
But if needed, the Forest Service has about 14 commercial air tankers ready to go at a moment's notice. If all of those are unavailable at that moment, they can request anywhere from one to eight MAFFS planes, and get them in the air quickly.