A veteran pilot and aerial firefighting expert said Tuesday he has a solution to prevent the next big fire from hitting another Colorado city.
State lawmakers are trying to determine the most effective plan for fighting future fires from the air.
Ed Herlik thinks he has the answer, and his idea has captured two lawmakers' attention.
The loud buzz of aircraft and sight of it dropping fire retardant on flames during the Waldo Canyon Fire and Black Forest Fire offered fire evacuees some hope.
However, Ed Herlik said by the time aircraft joined the fight, it was too late.
"The point to stopping a wildfire is to hit it really small, and normally firefighters will define initial attack as keeping it less than 10 acres. Once it grows past 10 acres, you're not going to stop it with an airplane,. You can maybe guide (the fire) around, you can maybe protect a structure, but you absolutely will not stop it," said Herlik. "Mother Nature has to do that."
Herlik flew in the Air Force for 28 years. He has studied aerial firefighting for 20 years. His research shows Colorado could lease single-engine aircraft, like crop dusters, to effectively fight fires. However, aircraft need to get in the fight early.
"The idea is, (the sooner) you get there, the less you need, which means those single-engine aircrafts Colorado seems to contract will do the job and keep things wet and cool until the firefighters arrive. But only if they are on top of it in just a minute," said Herlik.
He suggested a fire fleet patrol at-risk areas on days with red-flag warnings.
He estimated it would cost $800-$1,000 an hour for each plane in the air.
He pitched his idea to Colorado State Senators Kent Lambert and Ellen Roberts.
A fleet would be much cheaper than wildfire recovery efforts.
"If you avoid a single fire you have paid for the entire fleet for several years," said Herlik. "How much would we pay right now to unburn Black Forest? How much would we spend today to reverse all that?"
Herlik said it's a critical topic for a state whose residents will continue to be threatened by fire.
Lambert forwarded Herlik's idea to lawmakers who are researching the idea of aerial firefighting.
Roberts is on a subcommittee that will analyze future firefighting options for the state. She said it is in the early stages of its research. She wants to have Herlik present his findings to the subcommittee this fall.