DENVER (AP) – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday there are initial talks with Western governors about sharing a regional aerial fleet to fight fires, although the idea is far from reality at the moment.
The Democratic governor spoke briefly about the discussions during a news conference where he urged Colorado residents to be aware of the fire danger this Fourth of July holiday, and advised homeowners living in high-risk areas to work on mitigation around their properties.
“I want to encourage everybody to create defensible space if you’re living in the wildlands,” he said. “Make sure you don’t have mulch around your house, clear the brush back away from your house, make sure you don’t have trees right up against your house.”
Hickenlooper said Tuesday that residents should check with their local governments to know what burning restrictions are in place, and follow any fire bans posted at campgrounds. Currently, there’s no statewide ban in place.
Hickenlooper emphasized that the idea of a regional aerial fleet is preliminary. It came up during the Western Governors’ Association meeting last week in Utah. Colorado lawmakers this year passed a bill for a state firefighting fleet but didn’t budget funds for it.
The governor said a standing fleet would be shared by Western states during the summer where they’re needed most.
“We can do this more cheaply by working with other states,” he said of having a state fleet separate from the federal resources.
Last month, Colorado was one of the most active states for wildfires in the country but the fire danger has eased a bit thanks to some rainfall, increased humidity and cloud cover. As a result, all four of the military air tankers mobilized to fight fires in the state, including the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs and the West Fork fire complex, are being moved to Arizona to fight wildfires. All four C-130s will be based at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport starting Wednesday to fight fires in Arizona, the National Interagency Fire Center announced Tuesday.
The move leaves Colorado without any large air tankers to fight blazes but fire managers are hoping to get one soon that can be stationed in western Colorado, where the fire danger is higher.
There are still seven smaller air tankers stationed in Colorado, including two state-contracted planes in Canon City and Fort Collins, along with around 40 helicopters, according to the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center, which manages firefighting assets for Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. Some counties have also hired their own helicopters.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.
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