Bill To Create State Firefighting Fleet Has Good Chance To Pass

DENVER (CBS4) – The bill to create Colorado’s own aerial firefighting fleet is getting bipartisan support and Gov. John Hickenlooper is on board. The funding has been approved and now more details are coming out about what the fleet would look like.

The aerial firefighting fleet would include four planes- two of them leased, two owned by the state- four leased helicopters and money for a center to study high-tech firefighting like night vision goggles.

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The price tag for those resources is $21 million. Last year Colorado spent $48 million putting out fires.

State Senator Steve King first introduced the bill creating Colorado’s own aerial firefighting fleet last year among some criticism.

“A catastrophic wildfire on the Western Slope of Colorado in our watersheds will change Colorado for generations to come,” said King.

A year and another historic fire later, King has proved them wrong.

“Common sense started to sink in about the fact that we have 40 million acres of dead trees around our water,” said King.

King is a Republican representing Mesa County. He said the support of Democratic Senate President Morgan Carroll, his co-sponsor for the bill, took politics out of the debate.

“It is jeopardizing what we hold dear in this state to fail to act in this regard,” said Carroll.

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Last year Hickenlooper ordered the Division of Fire Prevention to conduct a study to determine what the state’s firefighting needs are. Those results are reflected in King’s bill.

Colorado is dependent on the federal government for air support when a fire breaks out. That fleet is down to just nine heavy air tankers for the entire country.

The most compelling plea came from a fire victim.

“I’m here today to ask you to prevent another community from going through the same hardships, from going through the same economic, emotional and environmental devastation of fire,” said Waldo Canyon fire survivor Dan Stanforth.

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– See images from the most destructive wildfires (Black Forest, Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.