Sedona Airport Serves Critical Role in Slide Fire Assault
Sedona Airport in Northern Arizona was ideally positioned to assist the firefighting efforts during the recent 20,000 acre “Slide Fire.” The fire started just 5 miles north of the airport deep inside Oak Creek Canyon and initially was spreading northward towards Flagstaff. Four major firefighting aircraft were based at Sedona Airport along with dozens of support personnel and ancillary equipment. The Sedona-Oak Creek Airport Authority, the non-profit organization which manages airport operations for Yavapai County, worked with the incident managers and personnel to allow the use of twelve acres of the airport’s operating area for firefighting operations.
At the fire’s peak, three Sikorsky Air-Crane helicopters and Colombia Helicopter’s Model 234 Chinook were fighting the fire throughout the day, dumping water on key hot spots, each flying a half a dozen trips per day. The short return flight to Sedona Airport to refuel was asignificant advantage for the airborne attack on the fire. Initially, Sedona Airport was able to provide fuel needed for these massive helicopters until each company’s fuel transports were brought in to supply fuel to the aircraft. The Southwest Type 1 Incident Management Team along with dozens of air support crews took over a large section of Sedona Airport for the firefighting effort. The Forest Service entered into a “land use agreement” with the airport, paying for the large area of the airport the Forest Service occupied for nearly ten days, but the airport did wave the “fuel flowage” fee for self-fuel directly supplied by the company’s to their helicopters.
The fire, which started on May 22 from an undetermined cause quickly consumed thousands of acres as it was driven north by high winds and extremely dry conditions. Eventually, the fire consumed over 20,000 acres, involved over 1,200 personnel and dozens of aircraft and ancillary equipment necessary to contain this raging inferno. 300 structures in the direct path of the fast moving fire were in jeopardy of destruction, but expert use of all the fire resources saved every building. The direct cost of the firefighting effort is estimated at over $10 million.
Rod Propst, general manager of Sedona Airport said this was not the first time Sedona Airport has been used as an air base for fighting forest fires in Northern Arizona. In 2006, a major fire called the Brins Fire burned 4,000 acres adjacent to Sedona’s city limits. A complete incident team including hot shots and Sikorsky Air Cranes set up a full base camp and coordinated the fire fight from the airport. “We’re quite aware of how valuable this airport is as a staging area for forest firefighting battles,” Propst said. “It is also heartening to see the local press broadcasting to the citizens of the area, the airports’ intrinsic value and our spirit of cooperation during this difficult emergency responses”, he added.
Colombia’s Model 234 Chinook and Erickson Air-Crane on second day of fire with Sedona Airport supplying necessary fuel. Note raging fire in background past Wilson Mountain..