Changing responses to wildfires is getting more expensive – CBS Denver

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CASTLE ROCK, Colorado (CBS4) – Firefighters across the state have been monitoring what’s been happening in Teller County as another wildfire broke out in Colorado this week. The High Park Fire burned through the forests as firefighting aircraft were moved in to help.

A helicopter drops water on the High Park Fire on Friday. (credit: Teller County Sheriff’s Office)

“It’s the price of doing business in the world we live in today,” said Garry Briese, executive director of Colorado State Fire Chiefs. “The cost is not in the device being sent, the cost is in the loss if we don’t ship them fast enough,” Briese said.

Briese suggests a change in a common sentence. “We don’t have a ‘fire season’ in Colorado. We need to stop using that term,” he suggested.

A tanker jet drops slurry onto the NCAR Fire March 26 in Boulder, Colorado. (Credit: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Across the state, firefighters are facing the reality of quickly igniting new fires.

“We send out a second automatic alarm every red flag day,” Castle Rock Fire Chief Norris Croom said. “Everyone is trained in wildfire fighting.”

There is now a brush truck in each fire station of this municipal department.

(credit: CBS)

At the state level, changes have also been made, Briese pointed out.

“We added planes. We added sensor planes, we added engines,” as well as personnel, he said.

The state Legislature this session approved the Division of Fire Prevention and Control, buried in a bill for disaster preparedness and recovery resources. It establishes a statewide fire dispatch center for rapid responses to wildfires. Right now, “our dispatch center may have to call three, four or five different dispatch centers to try to get the resources we need,” Chief Croom explained. “If we can call that communications center and say, ‘Hey, we need thirty motors and fifteen brush trucks,’ and they take care of it and get it going, absolutely, that makes it much easier,” he said. The governor should sign.

In addition, the legislature approved $15 million that will help extend time on existing planes, add more large tanker planes and more helicopters under contract. In recent years, the state has created its own force of firefighting aircraft, as federal resources have become more difficult to obtain with increasing fires in the West.

A firefighting plane drops slurry on the Ute Pass Fire near Durango on Friday. (credit: Bill Luthy)

“We’re not as dependent on federal authorities as we used to be,” Briese said. Submitting requests to federal fire authorities can cause critical delays. “The delay is built into the system. Because in fact they have limited resources at the national level. They have a lot of them, but they are still limited. And when you have multiple fires in multiple states, they prioritize where those assets are going to go. »

It probably also depends on the location of the aircraft. In a difficult fire season like the one ahead, federal authorities may have prepositioned planes in other states and they may be too far away to make a quick impact. In Douglas County, Chief Croom has access to a county-funded helicopter that can do water drops, set aside for a significant portion of each year to be ready.

People walk through a neighborhood decimated by the Marshall Fire on Jan. 2 in Louisville. Based on the number of homes destroyed and monetary losses, the Marshall Fire became the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. (Credit: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

The overall cost increases. But with increasing fire danger with drought and climate change, the cost of inaction has also increased. Croom points out that during the Chatridge fire in 2016, the deployment of rapid resources may have been called into question. “You have to look at this and say, ‘OK, we spent $1.5 million on this fire. But we saved $700 million worth of goods. It’s hard to contradict. »

Overall, rapid response is becoming common practice as wildfires ignite. There is a mantra, says Briese. “Hard, heavy and fast. If we don’t do it hard, heavy and fast, then we make it harder for ourselves and more dangerous for citizens. »

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