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Udall Visits Larimer County, Charts Path Forward for 2013 Wildfire Season

Grace Hood

Senator Mark Udall met with more than a dozen stakeholders in Northern Colorado Tuesday to discuss recovery efforts since the High Park Fire and a path forward into the 2013 wildfire season.

Poudre Fire Authority hosted the meeting in Fort Collins. Chief Tom DeMint summed up the wide range of concerns this way:

“It’s not just about the lives—that’s our No. 1 priority—but it also comes to impact our drinking water, our recreation, the wildfire has a huge impact. We’re seeing that more and more as we go into another fire season,” he said.

At the top of Sen. Udall’s list of priorities right now are two efforts. The Democratic senator is currently trying to secure federal funds to mitigate the fire’s impact on the Poudre River, which was devastated by last year’s fire. He’s also working to update the U.S. Forest Service air tanker fleet—funding he said is currently tied up in red tape.

“We can do that and we need to do that by this summer,” he said. “I’m going to keep pushing until we have a modern air tanker fleet to support our firefighters and fight those fires more effectively.”

Udall has also asked the U.S. Air Force to outfit seven planes into makeshift air tankers for the 2013 wildfire season.  

Other topics raised at the meeting varied widely. Greeley officials made a plea for funding to complete critical watershed projects. Larimer County High Park Fire Recovery Manager Suzanne Bassinger said that about half of homeowners who lost their homes to the wildfire were underinsured by as much as $150,000.

Looking into the future, Iain Hyde, State Disaster Recovery Manager at Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, raised questions about a vital federal program that’s currently on the chopping block in Congress.

“Federal Emergency Management Agency has funded a program called the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program and it provides grant funding for planning [and construction],” he said. “In Colorado we’ve been able to get more than $30 million from this program. It had been annual up until the past year.”

Hyde emphasized that the dollars funded construction projects that helped to reduce the risk of property and infrastructure loss during wildfires. He said program's projects spared homes in both the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires.

Ultimately, Senator Udall left the meeting with a long list of follow up items. At the end he emphasized the importance of planning ahead for what appears to be another difficult wildfire season in 2013.

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