Jun 12, 2012 7:58 PM by Andy Koen

Local volunteers join ranks fighting High Park Fire

More than a dozen firefighters from Southern Colorado are heading to Larimer County to join the lines of the High Park Fire. Volunteers and trucks from Colorado Springs, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Canon City and Westcliffe are all working the fire lines as part of a 500 person ground force.

Some, like Brian Platt, have been on the fire lines before. "I went to the Hayman Fire, I went to the Duckett Fire and I went to the Bear Fire," he recalls.

For others, like Michael Madrid, it's a new experience. "(It's rewarding) to know that you are helping out a community that needs the help."

Platt knows the days are long and the work is hard. Sixteen hour shifts broken up by 8 hours of sleeping in tents are the norm. That said, he's surprised they weren't called up earlier. "I'm ready go."

Another local resource that stands ready to go are the C-130 air tankers of the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base and their pilots and crew. They have been training in advance of deployments should fire commanders call on them. The Forest Service says the need hasn't yet reached that point.

In fact, the 302nd hasn't been called on to help in any of the 19 large wildfires burning in the western US.

Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the US Forest Service National Interagency Fire Center, explains contractual obligations require all commercial air tankers to be used before calling in the Air Force.

"At the present time, we have had enough commercial air tankers available to where we haven't had to call the military."

Given the hot dry conditions of the forests, Jones suspects it's only matter of time before the Air Force is needed.

"That situation can change very rapidly and if we get to a point our commercial air tanker fleet is not available, we will call on our military partners."

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