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Colorado airport supports air attack on Grizzly Creek Fire

A general aviation airport in Colorado played a key role as 600 firefighters waged an air and ground assault on a 32,000-acre wildfire that shut down an interstate highway and was lapping at the edge of the city of Glenwood Springs.

Photo courtesy of Lamp Post Camera Works.

By September 3 the Grizzly Creek Fire was about 82-percent contained and had been held in check for several days with some air operations staged from the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport.

“The Grizzly Creek Fire shut down Interstate 70 for the better part of two weeks and was burning right at the edge of Glenwood Springs,” said Josh Pruzek, AOPA Northwest Mountain regional manager. “The airport voluntarily shut down to be used as an advance helicopter base, complete with its own temporary tower.”

Pruzek said local skies were alive with “slurry bombers of every shape and size overflying the city-owned airport from dawn until dusk as helicopters based at the airport flew their missions. A temporary flight restriction (TFR) for firefighting was in effect in the area from the surface to 13,000 feet msl.

At the peak of the battle against the blaze, the helicopters operating from Glenwood Springs included three Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks, one Kaman K-Max, one Bell 205, one Bell 212, two Eurocopter AS350 B-3’s, and one Bell 407, according to airport manager Amy Helm. 

"Each helicopter comes with its crew, maintenance trailer, fuel truck, and/or personal vehicle, and/or a hotshot crew. Some of these guys have been camping out on the airfield. Needless to say, everyone has been extremely appreciative of the space and the ability to park on pavement," she told AOPA in an email on September 3. 

Pruzek credited Helm with “working tirelessly to lead the support effort” at the airport that was voluntarily closed by its tenants and staff to accommodate the fire suppression operation. Helm is also a pilot and aviation mechanic.

AOPA has long pointed out to local government boards that GA airports can play crucial—even lifesaving—roles in natural disasters and other emergencies, and that point has been underlined by Glenwood Springs Municipal’s participation in knocking back the Grizzly Creek Fire. The airport’s role as a firefighting hub comes just a few months after airport supporters succeeded in a petition drive that reversed a temporary closure of the airport ordered by the city council as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As AOPA reported at that time, despite the council’s unanimous vote to reopen the airport for proficiency flights and ease other pandemic-related municipal restrictions, airport supporters remained wary about the possibility that a 2018 city study of alternate uses of the airport’s property might be leveraged to close the airport, which has a 3,305-foot-long runway and is home base to approximately 75 aircraft.

Pruzek has worked closely with AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Eric Strautman, a local optometrist, businessman, and Cirrus owner, to promote and defend the airport and urged AOPA members elsewhere to mobilize their considerable resources against such contingencies.

“No airport is safe from closure threats, and the value of GA should be widely proclaimed by pilots to local officials,” Pruzek said. “AOPA’s Airport Support Network program is a critical component of a good offense and defense at the local level.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy

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