Colorado Senate OKs air fleet to fight fires

Colorado Senate OKs air fleet to fight fires

25 April 2013

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USA — Reminded that the most destructive wildfire season in Colorado history occurred in 2012, the Senate on Wednesday gave initial approval to a proposal allowing the state to form its own air fleet to fight fires, although for the next year the effort is likely to remain in a holding pattern since it lacks funding.

Senate Bill 245 would create the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps under the Division of Fire Prevention and Control in the state’s Department of Public Safety. But the bill was amended in the Senate Appropriations Committee to make the funding discretionary instead of mandatory.

On Wednesday, some lawmakers urged that the Senate reject the committee’s changes.

“This body is failing the responsibility of Coloradans,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, noting the destruction caused by the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs in June.

Some senators are scheduled to meet with Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday to see if there’s any way to hash out the funding situation.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, it would cost Colorado close to $30 million over the next three years just to get the effort started. The fiscal note includes costs for three large air tankers and three tactical planes. The program would eventually employ six people, according to the fiscal note.

The state currently relies on a fleet of U.S. Forest Service aircraft that in the past decade has grown significantly smaller and can be stationed in other states several hours away.

“This is the most important legislation of my career,” said Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, who is one of the bill’s prime sponsors.

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