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As the impact of the coronavirus known as COVID-19 took hold, the dozens of coast-to-coast flights over Chaffee County diminished and the sky appeared bluer and quieter. That changed this week, as wildland firefighter training commenced, once again adding flights to the sky above the county. Those flights Chaffee residents are seeing have a purpose.

On April 24, the weeklong aerial wildland firefighting training and certification program began at the Jeffco Airtanker Base, located in Broomfield, Colo., at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. Members of the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing, Wyoming National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, and other firefighting agencies host this annual event.

Courtesy Photo

Using portable water, the crews will execute training drops in Arapaho, Roosevelt, and Pike-San Isabel National Forests (over Chaffee County) and on the Bureau of Land Management lands.

Throughout the week, residents in these areas may see low-flying C-130 aircraft accompanied by U.S. Forest Service lead planes. Water will be loaded from Jeffco, with crews starting and ending their days at their home unit.

The training, sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, consists of classroom, flying, and ground operations for Air Force aircrews, civilian lead plane pilots, and support personnel from the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management as well as other federal and state firefighting agencies.

“We are eager to join up with our civilian and military partners this week and prepare for another challenging wildfire season,” said 302nd Airlift Wing commander Col. James DeVere, “Training together is vital. We are able to battle wildfires as one seamless interagency team working with the U.S. Forest Service because of the training we do together.”

For more information visit the USDA Forest Service’s website.