Facility to be upgraded to serve larger wildfire tankers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A planned $15 million upgrade will allow a Forest Service facility at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque to serve the largest tanker aircraft used to fight U.S. wildfires.

The larger tankers can hold about 5000 gallons (18,900 liters) of retardant, about three times as much as the aircraft that currently use the Cibola National Forest Air Tanker Base at Kirtland, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who toured the tanker base Tuesday, said improving the base will reduce the time it takes for large aircraft to get involved in fighting wildfires.

“Having this right here in Albuquerque … changes the game in large swaths of New Mexico and all the way into Colorado and our other neighbors,” Heinrich said.

The Forest Service uses contractors to fly the planes.

Steven Hattenbach, the Cibola forest’s supervisor, said the base has been used for about 400 flights so far this year, with most of the retardant being dropped on New Mexico fires,.

Heinrich said a request for proposals for the upgrades has been made public for the construction work. The project could break ground in the fall.

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