DENVER (AP/CBS4) – Gov. John Hickenlooper expressed support Thursday for legislation aimed at combating wildfires in Colorado, including tax incentives for mitigation and funding to buy better equipment for firefighters.
However, the Democrat indicated he’s not ready to support more aggressive suggestions from Republicans who want a state-owned aerial firefighting fleet, or from his own task force involving building codes and fees.
“I think incentives are going to work better, rather than imposing fees and surcharges,” Hickenlooper said. “Let’s do the incentives, we’ll measure our success, see what kind of coverage we’re going to get and then go from there.”
During the past two years, Colorado has experienced its worst wildfire seasons. Blazes in Colorado Springs and Fort Collins destroyed more than 1,000 homes and killed five people.
Hickenlooper believes those wildfires will generate greater awareness among individuals and municipalities to find solutions without state mandates.
The task force convened by Hickenlooper last year to study wildfire and insurance matters recommended statewide building requirements in areas where development borders forest areas.
The group also recommended developing a map of those high-risk areas to calculate risks and assess fees to help with mitigation.
Hickenlooper said a state-owned fleet could prove to be too costly and needs further study.
“We have no question we need more aerial support,” said Hickenlooper.
The Western Governors’ Association has discussed the idea of a shared fleet, but some members have expressed concerns that the benefit doesn’t justify the cost, he said.
The cost of a shared fleet would be an estimated $17 million. Colorado alone spent around $48 million putting out fires last year.
In addition to tax credits, lawmakers are proposing a death benefit for wildland firefighters and changes to the state’s prescribed burning program.
Republican state Sen. Steve King, who has been pushing the idea of a state-owned firefighting fleet, called the bills a step in the right direction. But he insisted the cost of a fleet would be money well spent.
“At a certain point you start saying the health and safety of our citizens, land water and air is at serious risk and I as leader need to take action right now,” said King.
During the Black Forest Fire last June in took nearly six hours for a federal air tanker to arrive on the scene. By then the blaze had already burned through more than a dozen homes.
“That’s unacceptable, six hours allowing fire to grow without containing it with proper air support,” said King.
King said Colorado has an opportunity to build not only a fleet but a high tech firefighting industry with satellites, night vision goggles and laser targeting.
He cited the long-term environmental impacts that a major wildfire could have on the state’s watersheds.
“I believe that wildfire is a clear and present danger to Colorado and we need to take action,” King said.
The governor said will make a decision in April when the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention will come back with a study of the cost benefits.
“We’re looking right now go back over each events over last several years and determine if we had different resources would it have made a difference,” said Hickenlooper.
King will introduce a bill Thursday that lays out funding proposals.
It includes, among other things, selling ads on the tails of planes.
The fleet would be modeled after California’s where they’re able to respond within 20 minutes to any fire in the state.
– Visit CBSDenver.com’s Wildfire Resources section.
– Read recent Wildfire stories.
Wildfire Photo Galleries
– See images from the most destructive wildfires (Black Forest, Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.
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