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The Growing Politics of Wildfire Season

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

As another explosive wildfire consumes thousands of acres in Colorado, the political ramifications of this wildfire season are becoming more inevitable.

The first and most obvious one is the concept of evacuations and reverse 911 calls. The tragic results of the Lower North Fork fire put the reverse 911 calls into focus, but whenever a fire threatens lives in the mountains, the issue will be front and center.

The speed of the High Park fire has reminded everyone how vital adequate warning systems are in a wildfire. The High Park fire has not only brought the idea of accurate reverse 911 calls back to the headlines, but also the concept of timing.

The High Park fire exploded from 10 acres on Saturday morning, to 5,000 acres later that same evening. By Sunday evening, it had grown to 20,000 acres. With that kind of speed, evacuation calls must be made not only accurately, but with even greater speed than the fire.

The political side of this may seem vague. But since 911 calls and evacuations are all under the responsibility of the government, any errors or problems will quickly become the problems of elected leaders. And in an election year, any problem of an elected leader becomes a political issue.

Another political issue that wildfire season will magnify is water storage.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced last week that they are seeking input on a plan to store more water in the Chatfield Reservoir. While not directly associated with wildfires, increased water storage becomes a bigger issue in drought years. Drought years only get the attention of voters when their water use is restricted or they see fires burning throughout the state.

This summer may offer both conditions in Colorado.

So with wildfires reminding voters that Colorado is bone dry, the idea of saving more water for our growing communities should become more relevant. But just because it is more relevant doesn’t mean that environmentalists are simply going to endorse every plan. Hence, the political battle.

Finally, the wildfire season will increase the political conversations surrounding fire fighting resources, namely the expensive but desperately aging air tanker fleet currently in use throughout the country. With more air tankers needed, and more air tankers crashing, the amount our government spends on these resources will be of top concern.

This final issue is probably the trickiest, because it represents the age old problem of how to find more tax dollars for an important civic purpose that is needed on a seasonal basis. There is no lack of projects and problems that deserve increased government funding. But setting the priority list and making it happen is the part that seems to trip up elected leaders.

With the federal spending bill heading to another fall impasse, it is very likely that and new air tankers will be caught up in the crossfire. That problem may not seem like a big deal in states like Florida, who are currently experiencing flooding right now. But for voters in Colorado, who might see more damage due to the older weaker air tanker fleet, the issue can become a major political wedge issue.

It’s not hard to imagine a destructive wildfire and a candidate claiming that more could have been done about it if incumbent X voted for funding for new air tankers. I realize it seems like a stretch in June, but if our wildfire season remains this active, air tanker political ads will not be far off.

Hopefully precipitation will increase and Colorado’s wildfire season will even out. However, if it doesn’t, political issues associated with the season may heat up and spread as fast as the High Park fire did this weekend.

Wildfire Resources

- Visit CBSDenver.com’s Wildfire Resources section.

- Read recent Wildfire stories.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

- See images from the most destructive wildfire (Fourmile Fire) and largest wildfire (Hayman Fire) in Colorado history.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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