On June 8, 2002 the Hayman Fire introduced the state of Colorado to a new era of political concern: wildfire seasons that threaten the life, lifestyle and livelihood of statewide residents.
The Hayman Fire burned through 138,116 acres in southern Colorado and cost the state and federal government an estimated $238 million (paling in comparison to smaller, more recent fires). The 10 largest wildfires in Colorado history have occurred since the Hayman Fire.
A post-fire study of the Hayman Fire completed by the American Planning Association presented the state of Colorado as lacking political will for creating wildfire regulation. The assessment is right: years of minimal government funding, limited government intervention, and lack of a clear vision for forest care in our legislature is destroying our state. Our legislators have led us into negligence by failing to fund the one office assigned to care for this problem.
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control is woefully underfunded — allocated a miniscule $30 million for the 2021 fiscal year (less that 10% of the Colorado Department of Public Safety budget).
We have a problem that costs hundreds of millions of dollars each year and our state budget allocates tens of millions to create farfetched solutions.
These solutions appear most notably in the Colorado Department of Public Safety’s annual performance planning. The FY 2019 Performance Plan notes reducing large wildland fires as a key strategic policy initiative. The 2021 plan replaces the initiative with “increasing live-fire training for firefighters across Colorado.” The language shift is understandable: it’s hard to reduce the occurrence of wildfires when there is no funding to create solutions. The rhetoric also represents something more nefarious: an inability to imagine meaningful prevention strategies.
The underfunded offices and replaced objectives consign the Colorado community to a future filled with smoke.
Simply put: we need better plans and we need more money to implement those plans.
Throughout Colorado, we are spending the first two weeks of September praying for a freak snowstorm to make up for a legislature incapable of securing funding for meaningful wildfire mitigation.
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