Firefighters plan to get some extra aerial help on Monday against the flames that have scorched thousands of acres in the foothills west of Colorado Springs.
Four Air Force C-130 aircraft are scheduled to take to the skies Monday, offering a heavy hitting alternative with two to three times as much retardant as other tankers to spray ahead of the Waldo Canyon fire.
The C-130s could be shared with firefighters battling the High Park blaze near Fort Collins, said Ann Skarban, spokeswoman for the airmen. After “aggressive” flights on Sunday with smaller tankers, firefighters hope the extra force will help quell the Waldo Canyon flames enough to send in firefighters on the ground.
“Any aerial assault is going to be a benefit,” said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.
Each plane can carry up to 2,600 gallons of retardant that can be sprayed in as quickly as five seconds, covering a quarter-mile of brush, trees or grass. It’s a major upgrade over the force that’s fought the fire since Saturday afternoon.
So far, the largest tankers carried loads of 800 to 1,200 gallons of retardant, while the largest helicopters carried 800 gallons of water.
Two of the planes - those bearing the orange numerals 2 and 5 - hail from the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, a reserve wing featuring many airmen from the Pikes Peak region. The other two, which have the numerals 1 and 3, are from the 153rd Airlift Wing, a Wyoming Air National Guard unit.
Lt. Col. Dave Condit, commander of the 302nd Airlift Wing, said he’s been waiting anxiously to get in the cockpit since spotting the flames from his porch on Saturday.
“It’s tough when we’re looking at our own areas where we like to hike and mountain bike,” Condit said. “It gives us a little more sense for the people who are affected than the places we normally travel to.”
But those air drops may have to wait until Monday afternoon. The earliest Condit expects to fly is noon, due to the time needed to set up a retardant mixing station at Peterson Air Force Base.
Maketa also voiced a word of caution, noting that there’s only so much airspace to fly in.
“You can’t put all the aircraft over one fire,” he said.