Aerial firefighting center extends lease at Rifle Airport |

Aerial firefighting center extends lease at Rifle Airport

Alex Zorn
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Croman Corp. crewman Jesse Devette runs a maintenance test of the SH3H utility helicopter at the Rifle Garfield County Airport recently. The airport will be home to the Center for Excellence firefighting research facility for the next 10 years.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Rifle Garfield County Airport’s Center for Excellence, an independent research institute working to study the state’s wildfire-fighting efforts, will call Garfield County home for another 10 years.

Airport Director Brian Condie and Center of Excellence Director Ben Miller went before the county commissioners earlier this month, as the local aerial firefighting center was renewed for another 10 years.

Formed in 2014, the quasi-independent research center started as a way to evaluate the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of the state firefighting program.

The center’s role includes looking at new technologies and new tactics firefighters can use when dealing with wildfires. The center has been housed at the airport for three years.

County commissioners, at their Aug. 6 meeting, unanimously approved a 10-year lease extension for the Center of Excellence with the Garfield County airport facility.

“This is what the three of us envisioned this becoming,” Commissioner Mike Samson said. “We are beginning to see it take form. I am excited about it. It’s opening possibilities for things we never even dreamed.”

The Center for Excellence will occupy 100 percent of the south wing in the Airport Administration Building.

According to the agreement, the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control lease started retroactively on July 1 of this year, and will end June 30, 2028 with an annual payment of around $60,000.

Rent will begin at $59,221 annually and will increase 1 percent annually beginning in 2023, according to the agreement.

Miller also updated the commissioners on some of the projects the center has been working on.

He highlighted a project he called the Team Awareness Kit, which connects firefighters and public safety personnel in the field with map and location information.

“We are working on connecting everybody,” he said.

Miller added that the center continues to work with unmanned aerial vehicles and drones to test their practical application in the field.

“We are talking to major aerospace companies with the potential of bringing one here to Rifle next summer to do testing,” Miller added.

The Rifle Garfield County Airport also played a huge role during this summer’s wildfire season across the region, serving as the base for many of the aircraft used to fight the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt, as well as the more recent Cache Creek and Cabin Lake fires burning in the Rifle and Meeker areas.

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