Senator Bob Rankin said that following last year, which saw the three largest wildfires in Colorado’s history, the state needed to invest in fire protection, which includes aerial assets like the Firehawk. “It’s a helicopter that can fly fast, survive wind currents, and we can get it to fires very quickly and get them out before they explode like [the one last year] in Troublesome,” Rankin said. “The number of fires, relative to past years, really show that we have to do a much more aggressive job than we did in the past because we have more fires.”
Firehawks cost around $24 million to buy but, in this bill, the money put aside is to lease the aircraft as and when it is needed. The helicopter would then be operated by the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps, part of the Department of Public Safety, and would also be used by the Department for search and rescue missions.
Governor Polis has thanked Senator Rankin (Republican) and the bill’s House sponsor Julie McCluskie (Democrat) for their support of his budget proposal, saying that it ‘would help give the state the tools we need to catch and suppress wildfires’ before they become out of control. The investment in wildfire control was also welcomed by the Department of Public Safety, with officials identifying the Firehawk as a ‘gamechanger’ for fire prevention services. Chuck Cerasoli, local Fire Rescue Chief in Steamboat Springs, noted: “One of the primary goals of having helicopters available in our region is to respond to smoke reports and potentially spot fires as they are in their starting phase. The key is to catch fires very early, so having that air support is a tremendous asset for us.”