USA — Colorado will spend $1.2 million over the next two years on a “revolutionary” fire prediction system that uses atmospheric weather data to predict the behavior of wildfires up to 18 hours in advance.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1129 on Wednesday afternoon at a fire station in Arvada, implementing one of several bills lawmakers drafted in response to wildfires in El Paso County and elsewhere.
“This bill will predict the intensity and the direction of fires 12 to 18 hours ahead of time. That is really important so we know where to direct our planes, the aircraft we had a bill for last year, and our firefighters,” said Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, who introduced the bill. “This is really revolutionary.”
Under the new law, the Division of Fire Prevention and Control will contract with a nonprofit Colorado-based research organization with expertise in atmospheric science to predict wildfire behavior. The National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally funded program headquartered in Boulder, is the only state agency that meets that criteria. NCAR has used modeling to accurately recreate the behavior of historic fires, including the Yarnell Hill fire that killed 19 Arizona firefighters in 2013.
She said the new technology could be in place by next spring and will work with the state’s new aerial fire fleet, a multimillion-dollar investment into wildfire detecting and fighting aircraft lawmakers made in 2013.
“As we get more and more sophisticated with how we can predict storms and wind currents, that should allow us to really get a handle on which fires we should be worried about and which ones we don’t have to quite get so agitated about,” Hickenlooper said. “By spending this money up front, we are going to save money down the road.”