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FRISCO, Colo. (CBS4) – One Colorado senator wants air tankers to be a more frequent sight during the wildfire season in Colorado and throughout the West, but as of right now, Washington red tape is holding it up.
Sen. Mark Udall hopes to update the U.S. Forest Service’s fleet of aging air tankers. That’s just one of the topics he discussed with fire officials in the high country on Sunday.
Despite snow on the ground, it’s never too early to start talking about wildfire prevention. Studies show that the wildfire season is two months longer than it was just a few decades ago.
As Colorado saw last year, early spring is just as dangerous in drought situations. But one point of emphasis from Udall is working with local communities in the urban-forest interface.
“We are facing another hot, dry, fire prone summer, and we need to be prepared, we need to be ready,” Udall told about a dozen fire chiefs from around the central mountains. “We don’t have to remind ourselves that 2012 was devastating.”
Many of the fire chiefs at the meeting are from towns surrounded by the White River National Forest.
“We’re overdue on the forest. We kind of average a large fire season every eight to 10 years, and we’re going into year 13 since we’ve really had a big fire season. And sooner or later we’re going to, it’s part of the system,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, forest supervisor for the White River National Forest.
It’s an area that missed out one year ago on Colorado’s most devastating wildfire season ever.
“I think what we built on from last summer is a better understanding of what we need to do from the front end when these fires start, and what we can do on the back end to mitigate the damage,” Udall said. “The more communication there is between the Forest Service, local fire departments, and the citizens, the more prepared we are to get in gear right away when a fire starts.”
Part of that communication is working the ladder from the local officials up to the federal level.
“What I take away from as a U.S. senator is that the federal government’s partnership is important, and people here need to know resources will be in hand; they need to know there are going to be air assets,” Udall said.
Udall is pushing the Air Force to allow unused C-130s to be retrofitted to add to the nation’s air arsenal against wildfires. But what many of the fire chiefs said has been successful in preventing a major fire in the central mountains is planning and cooperation from citizens.
“We can’t expect never to have fire seasons, and part of what we’re working on is the expectation that we’re going to have fire, we’re going to have smoke at some point. How we prepare and how we respond is key right now,” Fitzwilliams said.
The plan for many of the communities in the forest-urban interface is to not only prepare for a worst case scenario, but everyone’s watching the skies as Colorado enters the historically snowiest months of the year with the statewide snowpack still below average.
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