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2 Lawmakers Want Colorado To Have Its Own Wildfire-Fighting Planes

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An image from the Waldo Canyon Fire (credit: CBS)

An image from the Waldo Canyon Fire (credit: CBS)

GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

DENVER (CBS4) – When it comes to wildfires and air support Colorado is at the mercy of the federal government. Two state leaders want to change that.

Sen. Steve King, a Republican who represents Grand Junction, will introduce legislation next week to develop a Colorado fleet of firefighting planes.

“We need — like California — to have our own air fleet,” King said.

King is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Cheri Jahn, a Democrat who represents Jefferson County.

“People have said ‘Oh my gosh, how in world will you ever pay for that? Oh my gosh, how can you make this?’ You know what, we can either keep saying that for the years to come or we can take hold of it and say ‘This incredible idea and we need to figure out how to make it work,’ ” Jahn said.

One idea is to make it a public-private partnership.

“Can you imagine what advertising value would be if you had a Colorado Rockies sign on tail of slurry bomber?” King said.

If the state were unrestrained by federal rules, pilots of state air tankers might be able to do night drops sometimes, which federal pilots don’t do now.

“We have night vision goggles. We have GPS. We have all sorts of technology that the federal government does not even recognize or allow their firefighters to use,” King said.

When the Waldo Canyon Fire erupted in Colorado Springs last year there were 29 other large fires burning throughout the country and nine large air tankers to fight them all. With 4 million acres of dead trees in Colorado, the danger of another waldo canyon isn’t going away.

“We are one lightning strike, one careless match throw, one terrorist match throw away from a catastrophic fire,” King said.

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