USA –-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Wednesday it wasn’t appropriate for conservatives to criticize President Obama over the number of air tankers fighting wildfires across the state.
Speaking to reporters about the fires Wednesday, Hickenlooper, a Democrat, was asked about charges leveled by conservatives online that the Obama administration helped fuel the wildfires by cancelling a contract last year with a private company that provided air tankers to the U.S. Forest Service.
Obama earlier this month signed a bill increasing the number of tankers to the Forest Service’s fleet, which conservatives have said was a political nod to a swing state.
Asked about criticism from the right over the Obama administration’s canceling of the contract, Hickenlooper offered an uncharacteristically strong defense of the president.
“Were these the same conservatives that were so worried about the Obama administration spending too much money, or were these different conservatives?” Hickenlooper said.
“Quite honestly, in a situation like this where over 30,000 people have been evacuated, I don’t think that (criticism of Obama) is appropriate,” the governor said. “We should be focusing our support on them and on the people out there risking their lives to fight these fires.”
But Hickenlooper wavered in his answers at times when asked whether there were too few resources to fight the fires.
“The one thing that keeps coming back to me is that the sooner you can get on these fires and the more resources you can get on them ASAP” the better, Hickenlooper said. “At this point at this level of fire concentration, we’re probably right at the edge of our limit, to be perfectly blunt. Now that we see what that limit is, perhaps we do need more.”
But he said later more air tankers would not have necessarily helped.
“At this point I don’t think we’ve had too few resources,” the governor said. “When you have a fire that explodes, which is what happened with the Waldo fire yesterday, we could have had 20 tankers and it wouldn’t have made a difference.”
The governor said that only after officials have had a chance to assess the fires later will they be able to determine whether or not more resources are needed.
“I think oftentimes in an election year people are trying to find any mistake and magnify it,” he said.
The governor also said he spoke with the president today about the damage, and Obama offered to do “everything that could possibly be done.” The president is scheduled to visit the state Friday and is expected to tour fire damaged areas.