Colorado lawmakers want state to have aerial wildfire fighting fleet

State Senators proposing bill to buy aircraft

DENVER - Two State Senators want Colorado to join California in having its own aerial fleet to fight wildfires.

Republican Senator Steve King and Democrat Cheri Jahn want the state to explore the idea of buying its own  helicopters and aircraft to battle wildfires.

"We are pushing our luck when we think that the federal government will come flying in to save Colorado when it's burning," Senator King told 7NEWS over the phone Friday.

King said as he's driven on Interstate 70 he's struck by the millions of acres of dead trees that pose a 'clear and present danger' to the state.

California currently has a fleet of nearly 50 aircraft that can be used to battle wildfires. The fleet can respond to a wildfire anywhere in the state within 20 minutes.

Right now, the U.S. Forest Service, which Colorado relies on for aerial support, has a fleet of nine heavy air tankers available to help fight wildfires nationally. The aging fleet is down from more than 40 tankers a decade ago. It's another reason King said Colorado needs to rely on itself moving forward.

"It is foolish and very risky to try and count on the federal government to always be there to put out Colorado wildfires," King said.

With such a dwindled national fleet, wildfire aerial support is being prioritized. Often that means some fire officials won't get a tanker in the air immediately because the aircraft may be deployed elsewhere.

No cost estimate for an aerial fleet has been released yet. The state will also have to figure out who will run the aerial program.

A draft of the bill will be released next week at the state Capitol.

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