Fire season leaves economic impact on airport


A firefighting plane from Saskatchewan refuels at the Lewistown Municipal Airport in July. The influx of fire fighting aircraft gave a boost to airport businesses.
Photo by Deb Hill

The 2017 fire season is leaving much of the state with charred souvenirs, but it’s managed to leave a more beneficial mark on the Lewistown Municipal Airport.

Airport Manager Jerry Moline reported the season brought several unusual aircraft, including Canadian scooper planes.

“We had up to five of those,” he said. “They came back here to be resupplied with fire retardant.”

With them, and all the other firefighting air traffic, came a small economic boost, according to Moline.

“As far as the crews over here with these firefighting planes, they were living in hotels and eating in restaurants,” he said.

The extra traffic also helped the airport. Moline explained more planes needed more fuel.

“We get a nice per gallon fuelage fee for fuel that’s pumped here on the airport,” he said. “That’s used for the airport operating budget.”

Skyline Aviation is Lewistown Municipal Airport’s main fuel supplier, and President Greg Smith reported the fire season did have an impact on sales.

“We actually did run out of fuel,” he said. “There’s dedicated fuel semi tanker trucks just for jet fuel, so there was a shortage of semi trailers. They were actually pulling in trailers from a three-state area.”

While the impact wasn’t long, it wasn’t small, either. Smith said his company sold roughly four times the normal amount of fuel in July.

“Those big scooper planes make a big effect on fuel,” he said. “They’re pretty thirsty.”

Although firefighting efforts did shake up the airport and its suppliers, Smith was happy to work with the various crews.

“We try to accommodate firefighters with the meeting rooms and vehicles and things like that,” he said. “Everybody, I felt, from the top on down was pretty accommodating and pretty easy to work with. They were pretty friendly and everyone got along pretty well in the thick of it.”

Effects by number
According to Bureau of Land Management Public Information Officer Jonathon Moor, who helped coordinate the firefighting efforts, the 2017 fire season has produced some impressive statistics for the airport.

• At least eight groups contributed to the efforts, including the BLM, the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, county governments, local governments and private contractors
• Several kinds of equipment went through the airport, including fire engines, water tenders, skidgines, pumper carts and dozers
• Firefighting resources came from across the nation, including the Southwest, Northwest, Alaska, southern California, the southern U.S. and the eastern U.S.
• A firefighting-effort base of operations had, at one point, seven single-engine air tankers operating out of the airport



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