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Past Wildfires Guide Gov. To Better Protect Colorado

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DENVER (CBS4) - When you hold a role like governor, you often see a lot of things during your administration, including natural disaster.

“We came down in a helicopter when the fire had just swept down the hillside. There must have been 150 houses burning at one time. It was just the biggest wall of flame I’ve ever seen,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

That “wall” was the Waldo Canyon Fire as it consumed the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in Colorado Springs in June 2012.

Waldo Canyon Fire (credit: Steven D. "Smitty" Smith)

Waldo Canyon Fire (credit: Steven D. “Smitty” Smith)

After seeing the devastation of fire after fire over the past few years, the governor wanted to do more to stop the destruction.

“What we tried to do with each fire is look at how did it start, how long did it take us to get there,” said Hickenlooper.

It turned out, getting there would become the first area of improvement for Hickenlooper’s administration.

Part of the plan included making the emergency response fall under the Department of Safety, instead of being spread out across several different agencies.

Next, came the vision of equipping the state with its own firefighting fleet, including four helicopters and four planes, some with infrared capability.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“Now we have very sensitive infrared detection so if there is a smouldering fire and they fly over, they’ll be able to pinpoint it and in real time let firefighters on the ground know exactly where it is,” said Hickenlooper.

The Governor says if Colorado had that technology in 2012, he believes that the Waldo Canyon fire would have been out before it made a run into the city of Colorado Springs.

Over the past three years, the federal government has made 13 disaster declarations in Colorado, many of them due to wildfire.

Despite all the tragedy, the governor says Colorado is a strong and resilient state.

“The history of the west is filled with these stories right, of people getting knocked down again and again and you just don’t quit. You pick yourself back up and you put your shoulder to the wheel and just start pushing again,” said Hickenlooper.

CBS4 Weather Special

- Visit CBSDenver.com’s Living With Wildfire section.
 
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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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