USA — Like most legislators, Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, have good intentions in wanting to start a Colorado state aviation fire service, but miss the point when they try to enact legislation. In this case, they haven’t done their homework on the actual cost of such a program.
Comparing fire occurrence in Colorado to that of California is totally inaccurate. There is no comparison when it comes to California’s fire occurrence and fire management programs.
California developed a state fire department (CALFire) over many years before getting into the fire aviation business. Colorado’s fires are low frequency and high risk, where California’s fires are high frequency and high risk. There is a big difference.
The first problem with the senators’ way of thinking is that aviation assets do not put out fires. Contrary to what the media would have us believe, people put out fires. Aviation assets are a tool and must be used appropriately or they are just a waste of money … lots of money.
Second, most of Colorado’s large fires occur during high-wind events. Aviation assets are grounded at wind speeds of 30 mph or greater. So during these events, they would be sitting at the airport waiting for the wind to decrease to where they would be effective.
Next, I don’t believe that the senators have any real grasp on how much the aviation branch would actually cost. The numbers they have thrown around would not come close to covering the yearly cost.
Colorado needs to invest in firefighting personnel rather than airplanes. Colorado has a number of state-owned wildland fire engines, from the old state forest service, but not enough personnel to staff them, so these engines are loaned to various local departments around the state for fire suppression.
Let’s put our fiscal resources and legislative support behind fire hazard reduction, and then think about an aviation branch.