DENVER (AP) – Colorado Republicans want the state to buy an aerial firefighting fleet to help combat wildfires, but it’s an idea Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper does not support.
Republicans are introducing legislation Monday that would require the state to buy four military planes and lease three helicopters to aid firefighting efforts. The Republicans say the fleet is pricey but essential given Colorado’s wildfire risk.
Holding up a gallon of water, Republican Sen. Steve King of Grand Junction said the wildfire air fleet is crucial to protecting Colorado’s forests, and by extension its watersheds.
“Either this is important, or it’s not,” King said, gesturing with the gallon of water.
On Thursday, Hickenlooper said having a state-owned fleet would be too costly and that the idea needs further study.
Even the Republican supporters weren’t sure Friday exactly how much the plan would cost. King said the four planes, which would be decommissioned planes acquired from the federal government, would cost about $7 million each to retrofit, for a total tab of at least $28 million.
King said it would cost an additional $5 million to $12 million a year to rent the helicopters.
King asked last year for $20 million for a Colorado fleet of air tankers. The money would have come from a mix of public and private sources, including a new state lottery game.
King’s air proposal was never funded, and a bipartisan panel called to study wildfire response did not recommend buying planes. Republicans insist the idea must be executed.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me why the state should not have this proven resource available,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch. “These resources work. They have been proven to work. They knock out small fires before they become big fires.”
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.
– Visit CBSDenver.com’s Wildfire Resources section.
– Read recent Wildfire stories.
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– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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