COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – After a summer of wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes in Colorado Sen. Mark Udall says an old law that could be affecting the federal response to fires needs to be examined.
The 1932 Economy Act was meant to put people to work during the Great Depression. At the time lawmakers didn’t want competition with the government for jobs. But times have changed, and questions are being raised in the areas like the neighborhoods of Colorado Springs that were ravaged by the Waldo Canyon Fire. The rebuilding there has begun, but the vast majority of homes destroyed there remain little more than ashes.
One such home belonged to Loretta Armstrong.
“People say I’m doing very well but every now and then I cry,” Armstrong told CBS4.
In July, 4 On Your Side CBS4 Investigates reporter Rick Sallinger pointed out how miltiary aircraft and personnel went unused in the early stages of this year’s large Colorado fires in part due to the little known 1932 Economy Act.
“Were you aware of that?” Sallinger asked Armstrong.
“No I wasn’t,” she replied. “But I just know they use our firefighters and a lot of people asked why wasn’t Fort Carson there.”
The law requires private contractors be used before government resources can be brought in. At a hearing on the fires Wednesday and Udall spoke about the law.
“I think there is an argument you can make when life and limb are directly threatened and immediately threatened and you have an asset like the military here in Colorado Springs … there’s some flexibility in the Economy Act of 1932,” Udall said.
But Udall says he believes even if the military’s big C-130s with fire retardant had been brought in earlier it wouldn’t have changed the outcomes of the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins (259 homes burned, 1 resident killed) or the Waldo Canyon Fire (346 homes burned, 2 residents killed).
“When people understood that the aircraft at the airbase here were not deployed, they drew the conclusion those terrible events could have been prevented,” Udall said. “Everything I have heard is that wouldn’t have been the case.”
He says in the case of the Waldo Canyon Fire Mother Nature took control and simply couldn’t be stopped. It burned more than 300 homes on July 26 when it moved down a mountainside and into neighborhoods.
Udall says he has also been talking with the generals in charge of the military in Colorado Springs about training troops to fight fires.
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