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Colorado Springs supertanker in Chile fighting wildfires

January 25, 2017 Updated: January 25, 2017 at 2:58 pm
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The Boeing 747-400 Global SuperTanker drops half a load of its 19,400-gallon capacity during a ceremony Thursday, May 5, 2016, at the Colorado Springs Airport demonstrating the firefighting capabilities of the world's largest firefighting plane. The Spirit of John Muir plane will be stationed out of the Colorado Springs Airport and will be able to respond to fires around the world. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Colorado Springs' globe-trotting firefighting jet is in Chile helping to fight wildfires in the South American nation through a grant from a unit of the Walton Family Foundation.

Colorado Springs-based Global SuperTanker Services LLC sent its Boeing 747-400 aircraft to Chile Tuesday to join the fight against a series of more than 120 wildfires in southern and central Chile that have burned about 300,000 acres in what Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called "the greatest forest disaster in our history."

The company sent a crew of 12 people to Chile that was underwritten with a grant from Fundación Viento Sur (South Wind Foundation), which is part of the Walton Family Foundation and is headed by Boulder residents Ben Walton and Lucy Ana Walton de Avilés, who is a native of Chile.

"The people of Chile have suffered the impacts of these devastating fires for weeks with little relief in sight," Walton de Avilés said. "The Global SuperTanker will be a powerful addition to Chile's courageous team fighting to save the people, homes, businesses, and forests in the path of still-raging fires."

Global SuperTanker CEO Jim Wheeler said the foundation financed use of the jet, which can dump nearly 20,000 gallons of water or fire retardant on a wildfire, to demonstrate its effectiveness as a firefighting tool to the Chilean government. He said the Chilean government has never used larger tankers to fight wildfires.

"The destruction of the fires in several parts of Chile have already been catastrophic, and we hope to provide some immediate relief to the people and places most affected by the devastation," Wheeler said. "We are very thankful to Fundación Viento Sur, the Walton Family Foundation, and Lucy Ana and Ben Walton for their generous support."

The aircraft was approved earlier this month on an interim basis to be used to fight wildfires on federal land, allowing its owners to negotiate contracts with the U.S. Forest Service and others for the upcoming fire season. The aircraft completed its first mission in November, helping to fight fires in Israel that destroyed hundreds of homes.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

Facebook Wayne Heilman

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