Kirtland Air Force bolsters aerial tanker base to fight wildfires
BERNALILLO COUNTY, NM – The largest wildfire in New Mexico history continues to burn – and some fear this season is a precursor to what’s to come.
The incessant drought is causing some to rethink the destination of resources.
KOB 4 have been making the rounds at Cibola National Forest Air Tanker Base – located at Kirtland Air Force Base – where they are getting a $1.5 million upgrade.
The air tanker base is operated by the US National Forest, which partners with the Air Force to coordinate the landing and replenishment of air attack assets to fight forest fires throughout New Mexico.
However, currently, due to the type of runway they have, they can only handle planes with 3,000 gallons of retardant. Very large planes can handle up to 9,000 gallons of retardant.
Over the next two years, the air tanker base will be able to handle larger aircraft to respond more quickly to what are expected to be more severe fire seasons in our region.
“Unfortunately, I think we’re ready for more of this. We’re in the midst of a drought that our region hasn’t seen in 1,200 years,” Senator Martin Heinrich said. “We need to update the how we do everything. Look at what it means to manage and fight fires in a changed climate, and be prepared for it. And that’s one piece of that overall puzzle.
Heinrich says that $1.5 million comes from the Air Force budget. Construction is expected to continue until next fall.
Right now, the biggest planes – like the 10 tankers – would have to fly to Roswell or Arizona for a gas station like the one being built. All of this is supposed to lead to faster responses to better fight fires in the future.