This type of information is invaluable to those on the ground who need real-time information on where the fire is going and how to keep firefighters out of harm’s way. “It’s harder for them to identify on the ground where they should and shouldn’t be, but if we can provide that information from the air where a fire’s burning based on the weather information, we can help identify where those ground fighters should go,” Cooke explains.
Colorado is currently looking into adopting a GIS solution statewide, and Cooke says he hopes to have it up and running during the state’s fire season this year.
Along with technological advances and community outreach, Colorado has been exploring possible legislative reforms that could help prevent wildfires in the state. After last year’s destruction, Colorado’s Legislative Council formed the Wildfire Matters Review Committee to review and propose legislation related to wildfire prevention, mitigation, and related matters.
The committee finished its review and published its findings in January 2014. It also recommended nine bills and two resolutions to the Colorado General Assembly on wildfire prevention, public safety, and tax reforms. The first recommended bill prohibits agricultural burning and changes restrictions to fireworks. The bill would strike an existing provision in state law that limits county governments’ ability to prohibit the sale, use, and possession of fireworks between May 31 and July 5, dates when there is a high risk of fire.
Another bill recommended by the committee would create a wildfire information and resource center that would maintain a Web site about current wildfires in Colorado. The Web site would include information on prevention of and preparation for a wildfire, statewide fire danger and current burning restrictions, and prescribed heavy burn activity.
The committee’s bills were introduced to Colorado’s General Assembly, but they have yet to be acted on by state lawmakers.
An additional stronger measure proposed by state lawmakers included charging fees on homes built in high-risk burn areas. McElroy, a Colorado resident, says that this proposal is reasonable because the higher taxes would go to pay for firefighters and equipment to defend structures in those high-risk areas. Other measures proposed by lawmakers include establishing a state building code for the use of fire-resistant materials and defensible space, but these proposals have not been introduced formally as legislation.
While Cooke says it’s too early to determine if Colorado will have an increased risk of wildfires this summer, the state is already encouraging home- owners and businesses to take the proper precautions to prevent fire, along with researching how to get the right information into the hands of first responders.
“We’re working with our fire chiefs, our sheriffs, and other responders to identify how we can get more resources on these fires quickly so that we can keep them small,” he says.