Summit County lawmakers work together on state wildfire initiatives
Two lawmakers from Summit County are working together to improve Colorado’s ability to prevent and respond to wildfire emergencies.
Last week the Advisory Committee to the Director of the Division of Fire Prevention and Control on Wildland Fire and Prescribed Fire Matters delivered its recommendations to the Colorado legislature’s Interim Committee on Wildfire Matters.
Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs is a member of the advisory committee that drafted the recommendations. House District 61 Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, serves as vice chairwoman of the legislature’s interim committee.
The advisory committee proposed a total of 11 recommendations broken into two categories, including seven funding issues that would not require substantive legislative action and four others that would have to be passed in the Colorado General Assembly.
Among the funding recommendations were the appropriation of money to fix issues with the State Digital Trunked Radio System as outlined by the Colorado State Fire Chiefs, fill the gaps between local and federal interagency dispatching systems, maintain mitigation and educational programs in high-risk areas of the state and ensure the Wildfire Preparedness Fund is adequately funded in 2014 and beyond, among others.
In addition, the advisory committee recommended the state sponsor, through coordination and funding, additional incident management teams that could be rapidly deployed to wildland fire incidents. IMTs would be composed of qualified state and local firefighters not already members of interagency response teams.
Although all of the recommendations received consideration by the interim committee, both Hamner and Gibbs took particular interest in increasing county authority to implement open burn bans.
According to state statute, cities and towns can implement fire bans, but counties do not have the authority to prohibit open burning or the sale and use of fireworks during periods of high fire danger, known as “Red Flag Days.” That lack of authority extends to agricultural burns, Gibbs said, which are often blamed for igniting large-scale wildfires.
“There are numerous accounts in the state of ag burns getting out of control and starting larger wildfires,” Gibbs said. “Counties usually pass resolutions implementing fire bans, but they really don’t have the authority to prohibit ranchers, or anyone else, from lighting a fire.”
The legislature’s interim committee can propose up to eight wildfire-related bills in the Colorado General Assembly this year. As vice chairwoman, Hamner said she intends to make sure all four recommendations that require legislative action are proposed in the coming session. She may even draft the bill granting county burn ban authority herself.
“The people closest to these incidents are the people who should be making these decisions, that’s why we have local government,” Hamner said. “These recommendations are so critically important for protecting firefighters, citizens and property in red zones, which encompasses most of my district.”
Should the legislative committee decide not to accept the recommendations of the advisory committee, during the interim committee’s Oct. 30 meeting, Hamner said a bill still could be carried by an individual legislator.
In addition to the four proposed measures, Hamner said the interim committee plans to present resolutions to honor the firefighters who died during this spring’s devastating wildfire in Arizona and to recognize the efforts of National Guardsmen deployed to the Front Range during last month’s flooding.
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