Governor cools to idea of state aircraft wildfire fleet

No guarantee fleet would provide extra effectiveness, opponents say

DENVER - A bill in the Colorado Senate regarding a fleet of aircraft to fight wildfires hasn't been voted on yet but already appears to be losing support from the governor's office.

The bill proposes creating a fleet of four slurry planes and three helicopters specifically to combat wildfires in the state.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said earlier in the week that he wanted to study the idea before deciding whether to support it.  On Friday, however, the release of two reports cast doubt on the governor's support.

First, one of the governor's senior policy advisers, Doug Young, said a fleet of aircraft wouldn't necessarily be more effective than firefighting crews on the ground.

Then, the Division of Fire Prevention and Control recommended that the state not purchase a wildfire fleet.  Instead, the division's report advised that resources be focused on a fire's initial attack; that any wildfire aircraft be used only on a contract basis; and that a statewide, information management system be used by everyone in the state's wildfire management system.

Early cost estimates are that buying a fleet would cost as much as $12 million in its first year of operation.

Hickenlooper said he'll work with lawmakers to find a better solution.

Firefighters in the Colorado Springs area said it's too soon to say whether they support the idea of a wildfire fleet.

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