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UPDATE: Wildfire experts predict average year for Colorado

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Gov. John Hickenlooper says wildfire experts predict an average year for fires in Colorado in 2014, welcome news after two consecutive seasons that were worse than average.

But Hickenlooper warned Monday that even an average year means fires could scorch more than 155 square miles, or 100,000 acres.

The governor spoke at Centennial Airport after receiving his annual briefing on the wildfire outlook from state and federal wildfire managers.

He also signed legislation authorizing nearly $20 million for the state to buy two fire-spotting planes and contract for four helicopters and four single-engine tankers. The state currently has contracts for only two single-engine tankers.

Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey attended Monday's event. In November, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said aircraft and other big resources were delayed because Harvey didn't pass command of the fire to the Sheriff's Office.

"It would have made very minimal difference during the Black Forest Fire because of the intensity of the fire," said Harvey.

On the day the Black Forest Fire started, aircraft supply was stretched thin because of demands coming in from across the state. This bill signed into law Monday will make more resources available for early detection as well as contract for additional aerial resources.

In March, the Pentagon announced 302nd Airlift Wing's fleet of C-130H3 aircraft will be reduced by one-third.  The fleet stationed at Peterson Airforce Base was utilized during the Black Forest and Waldo Canyon fires.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said those C-130H3 aircraft were federal resources used as a last resort after local and state resources were exhausted. This new legislation would supplement that and make more air resources available on the front end of firefighting efforts. 

Harvey also responded to speculation following the election of three new members to the Black Forest Fire board.

"No, I won't resign," said Harvey.

Noting the rain and snow falling outside the hangar, Hickenlooper said Colorado could use more wet days.

Communities across Southern Colorado were hit with snow Sunday. In Woodland Park, a resident recorded 8 inches by 9 p.m. Sunday night. 

Forest Information Officer Lawrence Lujan said a fire meteorologist with the U.S. Forest Service expects the fire season to start later this year because of late snow fall.

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