Jet fuel demand soars for Alaska firefighting operations

By Irene Smith DLA Energy Public Affairs

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A record-breaking fire season in Alaska is increasing demands for cold weather jet fuel supplied by Defense Logistics Agency Energy Pacific at Alaska to support firefighting operations.

Record high temperatures in much of the state, combined with a three-day lightning storm sparked more than 300 fires in June.

“The low snowfall this last winter, the warm weather, low humidity and (6,000 to 10,000 lighting strikes per day) has combined to make this year potentially one of the worst fire seasons, with 5.5 million acres burned to date,” said DLA Energy Pacific at Alaska Deputy Director Randy Ban͂ez. “As a result, there has been a significant increase in jet fuel/JP4 fuel consumption as additional firefighting resources are brought into Alaska.”

Monthly fuel requirements doubled in June and tripled in July because of the fires.

“From May through July 2014, we supplied more than 45,000 gallons of fuel,” Ban͂ez said. “This year, we have supplied more than 173,000 gallons of fuel.”

JP4 is required for aircraft operating in Alaska and is obtained from the Petro Star North Pole Refinery, Alaska.

“JP4 is used only in cold climate environments because of starting issues with helicopters and other aircraft,” Ban͂ez said. “With the extreme cold weather of 40-50 degree below zero experienced in Alaska operating conditions, normal jet fuel, JP8, jells at such low temperatures.”

DLA Energy Pacific at Alaska is responsible for supplying JP4 to the Fort Wainwright aviation fuel facility in Fairbanks, Alaska, home to the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service and the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

The AICC serves as the focal point for initial attack resource coordination, logistical support and predictive services for all state and federal agencies involved in wildland fire management and suppression in Alaska according to its website. The jet fuel is used to support Department of Defense and federal aircraft used in firefighting operations.

The Fort Wainwright aviation fuel facility is one of nine different bases throughout Alaska that DLA Energy Pacific supplies fuel to on a monthly basis.

“Fort Wainwright is providing direct support to firefighting operations with approximately 20,000 gallons of JP4 from June 21 to July 4 to DoD and federal aircraft,” Ban͂ez said. “This is an ongoing battle; as the number of wildfires increase more aircraft and fire crews will be needed to fight them, surging fuel demands through the summer.”  

DLA Energy Pacific at Alaska Quality Assurance Representative Ron Bock works closely with the refinery in Alaska to ensure DoD and federal fuel requirements are met.

“As a QAR, I assure fuels of various sort are on specification,” Bock said. “I test things, watch things and observe processes. We are working closely with the refinery to help them determine how much fuel is needed so they can meet the surging production requirements that are a result of the wildfires.”

Greater quantities of fuel mean a greater demand for fuel testing and inspection.

DLA Energy Pacific at Alaska is doing its part by ensuring the Fort Wainwright aviation fuel facility has a full supply of JP4, Bock said. The organization also supplies JP4 to Fort Greely, home of the Cold Regions Test Center, as Fort Greely is one of the coldest areas in Alaska.  

“(The refinery) is the only manufacturer left in the continental U.S. that continually produces JP4,” Ban͂ez said. “Because of this increase in monthly requirement, we have to get the refinery to produce more JP4 for these wildfires. It goes beyond what we normally project. So when we have surges in consumption, the supply planner has to work with the refinery to ensure that they will have enough JP4 on hand to meet the requirements.”

It is a team effort with the base, the refinery and all our folks who are involved to make sure there is enough fuel to conduct the mission, Bock added.

“A supply planner has to juggle demand with what’s available … It is a fine balancing act,” Bock said. “I have an immense respect for supply planners. If there is not enough of something at the right place and time, they are blamed. If there is too much they are blamed. Yet, if it’s all at the right place and time, no one notices.”

According to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, as of July 21, there are 323 active wildfires in Alaska being tracked.

“I worked my way through college fighting forest fires in Oregon and Alaska,” Bock said. “It was hard work with long hours. On the fire lines, we never knew what went on behind the scenes to manage the logistics to get everything to fight a fire. Now that I have worked a few years with DLA Energy Pacific at Alaska, I see things from a little different perspective. It takes a tremendous joint effort to battle a huge amount of fires in Alaska in a bad fire season and 2015 has already started to be a record-breaking fire season.”

“Contingency operations don’t always take the form of armed conflict,” Bock said. “Sometimes it requires axes, shovels, helicopters and airplanes. Being prepared to support conflicts and contingencies is what makes working for DLA Energy such a unique challenge, even in North Pole, Alaska.”