HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — In a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S Air Force, the Hill Airtanker Base has been supporting aerial wildland firefighting in the region since 1996.

“Northern Utah, part of central Utah, southwest Wyoming for fire retardant,” said Lee Rackam, a forest aviation officer with the U.S. Forest Service Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. “We also support the nation if there’s other air tanker bases such as Pocatello, Cedar City, Battle Mountain. We’ll go help them also and reload airtankers out of here,”

Rackam oversees operations of the Hill Airtanker Base and a heli-base in Morgan County.

At Hill, the airtanker base reloads aircraft with fire retardant and refuels jets for their next flight. The base opened for the 2021 season on June 12 and has already reloaded 58,000 gallons of fire retardant. On average each season, the base reloads roughly 300,000 gallons of retardant.

“The airtankers drop the fire retardant in front of the fire. The fire retardant is not meant to put out the fire, but it’s meant to slow the intensity and slow the rate of spread for ground firefighters to get there to put it out,” said Rackam, who’s been working with firefighting aircraft for more than 30 years. “It’s very critical, and it’s a valuable tool for wildland fires that are large in size and high intensity.”

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