ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4/AP) – Colorado fire officials are bracing for a challenging year of fighting wildfires after a record year in 2020. Gov. Jared Polis joined them on Thursday to announce that the 2021 wildfire season mitigation plan includes fighting fires earlier with more funds and resources on the ground.
Speaking at the AeroColorado Facility in Englewood, Polis says Colorado’s fire season is now “a year-round phenomena.”
“In 2021, we have already experienced fires. One of the things that is a change of paradigm is Colorado used to talk about a fire season. It’s now a year-round phenomena,” Polis said.
The unusual, extended wildfire season which lasted well into October burned more than 935 square miles. Mike Morgan, the director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, says the new approach to combatting and mitigating wildfires across the state will be an “aggressive initial attack.” By allocating resources to local governments sooner, they hope to lessen a fire’s impact by shortening the length of time it’s burning.
“We spend a little bit more money today, but we don’t have as many long duration events as a result of that,” he said.
After a devastating 2020 season, Colorado is undergoing a “metamorphosis of the change of the culture of how we respond to wildlife fire,” said Stan Hilkey, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
With excess funds, heightened aviation support, tactical prepositioning and mutual aid across local, state and federal partners, Hilkey praised the state’s mitigation efforts.
“I’ve never seen a more state of readiness than we have today,” Hilkey said.
Several bills passed in the Colorado Legislature set aside millions of dollars for wildfire mitigation including funds for more aviation tools and the extension of several contracts for air tankers and helicopters used to fight fires from above.
Fire managers also want to spread a message to residents to be careful and follow fire ban orders.
“The people that live and work and play in this great state need to be prepared and proactive as well. The public plays a valuable role in preventing wildland fires. On average, across the country human-caused wildfires make up 87% of wildfire occurances every year. Most of these wildfires can be prevented,” said Hilkey.
Cigarettes, campfires, fireworks and even sparks from a trailer chain can ignite a small fire that spreads fast, damaging lands and homes, Polis said.
“A seemingly minor act, can cause great devastation in our state,” he said.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)