State agencies responding to wildfires, funding set aside
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 — A variety of state agencies worked through the night and are continuing to respond today to various wildfires burning in Colorado.
“We are doing all we can with local, state and federal resources to help those impacted by the wildfires,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said. “At the same time, our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost homes and property in the fires.”
State resources were authorized Tuesday night as soon as they were requested by local authorities who had initial control over individual fires. The governor also authorized the Colorado National Guard to provide firefighting and traffic assistance. In addition:
The Colorado Department of Public Safety (DPS) is actively involved in all fires and helping to allocate appropriate resources in conjunction with the Division of Fire Prevention and Control and the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The Colorado Department of Corrections evacuated the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility because the Royal Gorge Fire prompted a pre-evacuation order in the area. Nearly 900 inmates were taken to CSP2 and other prison facilities.
The Colorado Department of Human Services is monitoring the State Veterans Nursing Home in Florence near the Royal Gorge Fire and working with summer and day camps to help with any relocation needs for children and adults.
The Colorado Department of Transportation is assisting with road closures.
The Colorado Department of Local Affairs is already assisting with recovery efforts and working with the Colorado Division of Insurance and other agencies.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is posting air quality alerts at www.cdphe.state.co.us.
As for funding needed to fight these wildfires and others this summer, the General Assembly transferred $58 million into the Controlled Maintenance Trust Fund in SB 13-230. Of that amount, $10 million is available in FY13, and the balance of $48 million will be available on July 1. The General Assembly made it clear that this $58 million is intended for disaster emergency circumstances (primarily fires) when necessary. By way of comparison, the state transferred $46.1 million into the Disaster Emergency Fund for all of last year’s fires.
In addition to the $58 million, FEMA reimbursements from last year’s fires will be available in the Disaster Emergency Fund for expenditure on new emergencies.
The state has adequate funding for accessing state and federal air resources to fight wildfires once resources are approved. Of course, weather conditions must be right for any of these assets to be used.
“We are a local control state and local authorities must request state assistance when a fire breaks out,” Hickenlooper said. “We are working hard with local communities to make sure they are aware of the assets available to them because our top priority should be getting water on fires within the first hour they are discovered.”
A law passed by lawmakers this spring directed DPS to submit a report to the General Assembly concerning the feasibility of the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC). The original version of the bill directed DPS to create the CFAC, which would have cost the state an estimated $17.5 million. No funding sources for this were identified by the General Assembly. At the same time, bill sponsors agreed during a meeting in the Governor’s Office with an alternative plan to explore a cooperative agreement with other Western states.
The revised bill ultimately approved by the General Assembly has the leeway for either a massive or a minuscule financial impact. One section of the bills says the Division may “purchase, acquire, lease, or contract for the provision of firefighting aircraft, facilities, equipment, and supplies for aerial firefighting.” The division already enters into contracts for these services, which could indicate a minimal fiscal impact. However, if the intent is to “purchase or acquire” there is a potential for a massive fiscal impact to purchase, hire staff as pilots and mechanics, and provide space for an aircraft hangar. Estimates were about $17 million for the aircraft and $500,000 to $1.5 million annually for staff and servicing. However, the bill did not attach an appropriations clause.
Information on current and future Colorado wildfires can be obtained from the following websites, which are updated regularly during incidents:
Colorado Office of Emergency Management: http://www.coemergency.com/
Current Map of Colorado Fires by COEM: https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=215563989566450268982.0004c328de8016253230a&msa=0&ll=40.446947,-105.908203&spn=13.068198,19.753418
Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center: http://gacc.nifc.gov/rmcc/links/fire_info/index.html
U.S. Forest Service Active Fire Map: http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/lg_fire2.php
Red Cross information: http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Red-Cross-Responding-to-Colorado-Wildfires
Wildfire information can also be found on Twitter with these hashtags: #COFIRE, #BigMeadowsFire, #BlackForestFire and #RoyalGorgeFire.