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ICYMI: Tanker base upgrade at Kirtland cuts wildfire response times in half

Upgrades made possible through $15 million Heinrich secured in 2022

ALBUQUERQUE - In an op-ed published in the Albuquerque Journal, Col. Mike Power, Kirtland Air Force Base Installation Commander, highlighted the importance of newly completed upgrades at the Cibola National Forest Air Tanker Base to help the U.S. Forest Service fight wildfires in New Mexico more efficiently and effectively. 

The upgrades were made possible by a more than $15 million investment secured in 2022 by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), then-Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for Military Construction. The upgrades will allow the base to support very large air tanker (VLAT) aircraft that can drop heavy volumes of fire retardant on blazes.

Albuquerque Journal: OPINION: Tanker base upgrade at Kirtland cuts wildfire response times in half, Col. Mike Power, May 23, 2024.

OPINION: Tanker base upgrade at Kirtland cuts wildfire response times in half

By Col Mike Power / Kirtland Air Force Base Installation Commander 

May 23, 2024

There are 109 mission partners on Kirtland Air Force Base, and together we make up an integral part of the national defense complex, which includes defense support to civil authorities.

All these missions require cooperation between units at Kirtland right here in Albuquerque. From responding to humanitarian disasters to fighting insurgencies, interagency cooperation is essential to mission success. That success directly affects and helps New Mexico and its surrounding states.

In that vein, Kirtland hosts an Air Tanker Base for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service on our ramp. This state and the region have suffered extensive wildfires in its history. To fight those fires, the service relies on aircraft to deliver critical supplies and equipment and to drop fire retardant or water to slow down a fire so firefighters can contain it.

To help fight these fires more efficiently and quickly, we got our heads together to find a better solution to assist in this effort. That resulted in a major upgrade to the Air Tanker Base. The extended ramp here at the Kirtland Air Tanker Base can now house very large aircraft like a DC-10, which is excellent for firefighting as it is configured to carry three times as much flame retardant as other large aircraft designed to fight fires.

This base upgrade, where now up to 30 Forest Service professionals work to lead the fight against wildfires, includes the larger ramp space for a stronger, more efficient capability to fight wildfires in New Mexico year-round. It now also houses a retardant tank farm.

What does that mean to the average New Mexican? It means 75,000 gallons of retardant available at one time, and cuts response time to a fire in half. Ours is one of only two bases in the United States with that capability.

Kirtland Air Force Base is the perfect location for this asset because of its central location to the American Southwest. We are honored to host the Forest Service and assist with the upgrade of the tanker base here to enable better, faster and more efficient firefighting for this region.

This is just a small example of how your federal government works together to help the citizens of New Mexico. The men and women of Kirtland are members of your community just like you, and we are proud to serve here in this state.