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Could jet fuel shortage impact firefighting aircraft in Utah? Fire officials not worried, yet

(A heavy tanker begins a retardant drop as crews respond to a fire burning near Goshen and Santaquin in Utah County on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News, file)

SALT LAKE CITY – Should Utahns be worried about a shortage in airplane fuel leading to problems for wildland firefighters?  Some national news outlets say there have already been reports of shortages at smaller airports, but firefighting officials say those shortages are not getting in their way.

The AP reports there have already been sporadic shortage at tanker bases in Oregon and Utah, with jet fuel supplies being one percent lower than the five-year average in the Rocky Mountains.  They also report demand for jet fuel has jumped 26 percent from the beginning of the year, although it hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels.

However, National Interagency Fire Center Spokesperson Jessica Gardetto says these outages have been extremely rare.  She and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands confirm the lack of jet fuel hasn’t created any problems in Utah this year.

“So far, any fuel shortages that may have occurred at some smaller airports in the west have not significantly affected fire suppression operations,” she says.

Gardetto says jet fuel shortages are a common occurrence, but, they have a plan to deal with them as they arise.  She says larger airports in major cities get their fuel from pipelines, however smaller airports need to have their fuel shipped in by truck.  That makes the smaller airports more susceptible to running out of fuel.

“We definitely have a lot of options if one or two small airports run out of jet fuel,” Gardetto says.  “If there’s really is no jet fuel available at the airport for the foreseeable future, we just move the aircraft to the nearest airport.”

She says airports of all sizes are very accommodating and flexible when it comes to receiving and servicing firefighting aircraft.  Gardetto says they can even use runways inside a Department of Defense airport, if needed, so planes can stay close to Utah to help fire crews knock down blazes.

“That could be just across the Idaho border.  It could be just across the Nevada border.  Thankfully, there are a lot of options when it comes to using different airports for fire suppression operations.”