Glenwood airport plays big role during firefighting effort |

Glenwood airport plays big role during firefighting effort

Alex Zorn
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Command Pilot Jon Chabala walks out of the Chinook helicopter after a routine check while they are stationed at the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport. This Chinook helicopter and crew are from Aurora, OR.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

While most area residents will go their whole lives without ever flying in or out of the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport, the past week has served as a reminder for many of the importance of having a local airbase nearby.

Though Aspen, Rifle and other nearby airports are close enough most of the time, having the firefighting Chinook helicopter stationed at the Glenwood facility this past week when critically needed was one of the many factors that led to the quick and effective response to the Lake Christine Fire, which is now nearing 50 percent containment.

According to the Friends of the Glenwood Springs Airport Facebook page, the Chinook dropped 141,000 gallons of water on the fire July 5 alone.

“We are just honored that we can have it here and be a local resource for the community,” airport manager Amy Helm said. “Having the helicopter in Glenwood Springs rather than Rifle significantly cut travel and refuel times.”

Rifle Garfield County Airport Helicopter Supervisor Chad Johnson, who helped with the firefighting efforts in Basalt, said the Chinook used in the Basalt fire has dropped around 270,000 gallons of water since it started working on the Lake Christine Fire.

When tragedy hits, that’s when you want to have emergency response close at hand, Helm said.

“Any way that we can benefit the community and have emergency response machines out here, that’s what we are there for,” Helm added.

Fuel tracks were brought to Glenwood from the Rifle airport for faster fueling and turnaround times.

With fewer than 10 Chinook helicopters in the state, including one at the Rifle airport, Johnson said the helicopter is an effective tool for firefighters even when the fire is moving because dropping water on a concentrated, specific area can really help knock down flames.

While single-engine air tankers are used for dropping retardant on the fire to control the spread, the Chinook is used to quell the flames directly.

Johnson said the Chinook will start out with smaller water loads and work its way up until it reaches around 2,000 gallons per load.

He estimated that it could have dropped nearly 100 loads during the peak of the Lake Christine Fire.

Aside from the recent firefighting efforts, Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport is used for flight schools that do mountain training, as an aircraft maintenance facility, and it has a dedicated hangar for Valley View Hospital for fuel and maintenance of the Classic Air medical helicopter that is based at the hospital, Helm said.

“Just because there aren’t commercial aircraft flying in doesn’t mean there’s not value,” Helm added. “We are a community airport.”

The airport’s assistance with the Lake Christine Fire has not gone unnoticed by the community.

“Maybe the town of Glenwood Springs will take notice of just how important this little airport is!” Elizabeth Reese commented to one of the Friends of the Glenwood Springs Airport’s posts about the Chinook.

“Great little Airport!,” Sean Thomas wrote in the same thread. “People don’t realize what an asset it is to our community!”

The city of Glenwood Springs is currently working with consultants to prepare a study to help determine the future of the 64-acre airport site at the south end of town. The so-called Airport Property Scenario Planning study is looking at possible expansion of amenities at the facility, but also is exploring whether there may be a higher and better use for the property in the future, other than an airport.


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