Fires rage in Colo., N.M.

Tracy Greenwood embraces daughter Mariah as they watch the wildfire burn around their home west of Fort Collins, Colo. About 600 firefighters are expected to be in that area by Tuesday.
Tracy Greenwood embraces daughter Mariah as they watch the wildfire burn around their home west of Fort Collins, Colo. About 600 firefighters are expected to be in that area by Tuesday. (ED ANDRIESKI / Associated Press)

The U.S. Forest Service is bolstering its deployment of firefighting aircraft. Canada and Alaska are helping.

Posted: June 12, 2012

BELLVUE, Colo. - Massive wildfires in drought-parched Colorado and New Mexico tested the resources of state and federal crews Monday and underscored the need to replenish an aging U.S. aerial firefighting fleet needed to combat a year-round fire season.

Wyoming diverted personnel and aircraft from two fires there to help with a 60-square-mile wildfire in northern Colorado. Canada also lent two aerial bombers to fight the Colorado blaze after the recent crash of a U.S. tanker in Utah. And an elite federal firefighting crew arrived to try to begin containing a fire that destroyed at least 118 structures.

All told, about 600 firefighters will be battling the fire about 15 miles west of Fort Collins by Tuesday, incident commander Bill Hahnenberg said. "We are a very high priority nationally. We can get all the resources we want and need," he said.

The U.S. Forest Service said late Monday that it would add more aircraft to its aerial firefighting fleet, contracting one air tanker from Alaska and four from Canada. Two more air tankers were being activated in California.

The announcement came after Colorado's U.S. House congressional delegation demanded that the agency deploy more resources to the fire, which was zero percent contained Monday and had forced hundreds of people to abandon their homes. The Larimer County Sheriff's Office said it confirmed one person died in the fire but did not say whether the victim was a person previously reported missing.

In a letter to the Forest Service, Colorado's congressmen said the need for firefighting aircraft was "dire." Colorado U.S. Sen. Mark Udall urged President Obama to sign legislation that would allow the Forest Service to contract at least seven large air tankers to add to its fleet of 13, which includes the two on loan from Canada.

The temporary additions to the firefighting aircraft fleet will make 17 air tankers available to the Forest Service, which has deployed 10 air tankers, 62 helicopters, and 4,000 personnel to more than 100 fires nationwide.

One of the region's most potent aerial firefighting forces - two Wyoming Air National Guard C-130s fitted to drop slurry - sat on a runway in Cheyenne, 50 miles north of the Colorado fire. The reason: The Forest Service, by law, cannot call for military resources until it deems that its fleet is fully busy.

Colorado was using five of 13 air tankers available nationally, Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin said.

Helicopters were used to suck water from a reservoir and drop it on nearby homes dangerously close to the flames.

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, firefighters got new air and ground support to battle a fast-moving wildfire that charred tens of thousands of acres and forced hundreds of residents to leave their homes in the southern part of the state.

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