Colorado Springs Airport will be home to a $20 million, 1.5-acre permanent airtanker base and 8-acre ramp to support aerial firefighting in the Rocky Mountain region and surrounding areas.

The city of Colorado Springs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service announced the plans this morning. 

The base will house six reload pits for any type of contracted airtanker, including Very Large Airtankers that can hold more than 5,000 gallons of retardant — making it the largest base in the region, with the ability to serve a 600-mile radius. 

The base will support even the largest airtankers and will allow multiple airtankers to reload at once, meaning larger amounts of retardant can be sent to a wildfire faster and more efficiently. 

It will also help the firefighters on the ground and protect communities from the approaching threat of wildfire. By being able to service aircraft of all sizes and capabilities, the base will also reduce the total number of flights needed to fight a wildfire, reducing the risk to additional flight crews and other regions. 

The 600-mile radius includes Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. The base will also provide support to southern Montana, southeastern Idaho, eastern Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, western Iowa and western Missouri.

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“We enthusiastically join our partners at the Colorado Springs Airport and the USDA Forest Service in the regional response to increasing forest fire activity,” Mayor John Suthers said in a news release. “We want to do everything we can to protect our beautiful state and our residents. As wildland firefighting continues to be a priority for western states, we continue to embrace our leadership role and we look forward to completion of this vital asset. 

“This base is something we’ve been working on for quite some time, and I want to commend our airport staff for their work in helping the project become a reality.”

The Forest Service signed the lease agreement with the Colorado Springs Airport Jan. 24, paving the way for construction. Both agencies will share the costs for construction and maintenance, currently budgeted at about $20 million.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for spring 2020. Construction on the new base and ramp is set to begin in summer 2020, with completion in 2021.  

“This project is a perfect example of how we can work within all levels of government to promote shared stewardship,” USDA Acting Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien said in the release. “I am excited to see it unfold and to see what it will mean for supporting communities during peak fire year activity.”

The ramp will be located near the airport’s main 13,500-foot runway and adjacent to the U.S. Army-operated ramp. In winter, when the Forest Service is not using the ramp, the airport will use it as a de-icing area for commercial aircraft. 

Editor’s note: The lease agreement signing date has been updated in this story. It was incorrect in the city’s original news release.