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Bill Calling For Wildfire Help From California Draws Contempt

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DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado lawmakers are already thinking about the next fire season and are now asking California for help to boost the state’s fleet if it’s needed.

The bill has already drawn contempt. The governor’s office is conducting a survey to assess the state’s specific firefighting needs. Critics say a bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, comes too soon to know what the needs are. King is introducing the bill authorizing the state to lease three Type 1 helicopters.

“This is long overdue. We need to protect our own water, we need to be proactive in doing that,” King said.

King says California, a downstream user of Colorado water, should pitch in. His bill also calls for the Golden State to bring Colorado their air support when fire threatens their interests.

“I think they will see the logic in the idea of releasing one of their 23, or 10 of their 23 air tankers to come help us,” King said.

The bill comes under new concern from Washington where budget concerns have some Petersen Air Force Base crews and planes that were used to fight the Black Forest Fire relocating.

“I want to make sure that these squads are not disadvantaged by loss of the folks that form those crews,” said Gen. Charles Jacoby, NORAD Commander.

There are still more planes than the equipment used inside to release fire retardant. The U.S. Forest Service expects they’ll have what they need should fire erupt again this summer.

“We can count on the fact that when we need resources nationally we will get them, but we also have resources here we can call on,” Chris Strebig with the Forest Service said.

Fire season is already underway in California where a historic drought continues. But should Colorado dry out too, the Forest Service says the state won’t be left to burn.

“If we’re both at five we’re both going to be priority for all the resources,” Strebig said.

With a heavy long winter, Colorado may not have a third year of record-breaking fires. The Forest Service won’t be able to forecast that danger until it becomes significantly warmer.

The cost to lease the helicopters could be up to $12 million and a decision will depend, in part, on the Colorado Division of Fire Safety. It conducted a comprehensive study of Colorado’s firefighting priorities and the results are due out April 1. Those numbers will likely influence any funding decisions.

Wildfire Resources

- 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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