Wildfire Train

In this June 13, 2018 file photo, smoke rises from the 416 Fire near Durango, Colo., as the sun sets. The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, alleging that the fire was sparked by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The fire burned about 85 square miles making it the sixth largest in state history. 

On Monday, the state House Committee on Rural Affairs and Agriculture unanimously approved a bill to increase funding to poorer areas of the state for a wildfire mitigation grant program.

“These grants fund critical projects that reduce the risk that a wildfire will threaten lives and property,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, one of the sponsors.

The Colorado State Forest Service, which is an agency within Colorado State University, receives approximately $1 million annually to provide grants for entities that engage in forest restoration or other risk-reduction activities for wildfires.

House Bill 20-1057 would require that instead of capping the state’s contribution to the grant at 50%, that cap would rise to 75% in areas with “fewer economic resources.” The Forest Service would be charged with defining what constitutes such an area.

The bill also makes fire protection districts and nonprofits that engage in fire management activities eligible for funding. The grant program would receive a seven-year extension, to 2029.

The Forest Service’s 2018 annual report highlighted a community near Durango affected by the 416 Fire in the San Juan National Forest. Firefighters were better-positioned to defend homes because mitigation had removed natural, flammable fuels around residences.

“It is important for homeowners to take steps to ensure that trees and shrubs are thinned near structures to reduce wildfire risk and, when possible, utilize fire-resistant building materials,” the agency wrote.

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