DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis and local and state leaders announced new legislation on Friday to help prepare for, respond to and recover from wildfires in Colorado.
Senate Bill 206 creates two grant funds to help families and businesses trying to rebuild after a natural disaster, like a wildfire.
The bill would create the Disaster Resilience Rebuilding Program, which is a $15 million fund that would provide loans and grants to homeowners, owners of residential rental property, businesses, governmental entities and other organizations that can be used to rebuild with advanced fire resistance standards, provide operating funds for businesses experiencing a loss or interruption in business and more.
The bill also creates the Sustainable Rebuilding Program, which includes a $20 million fund that would provide loans and grants to cover costs associated with building high performing, energy efficient and resilient structures.
Louisville Mayor Ashley Stolzmann said the Marshall Fire is proof that even suburban communities need to be prepared for the possibility of devastation.
“That type of darkness has been met with an unbelievable brightness that was unthinkable to us.” Stolzmann said. “Our community members will be able to come home because of the help we’re getting from the state, and this support will help family members be able to rebuild their homes better, safer and healthier than they were before.”
SB206 also addresses preparing for wildfire response by creating the Office of Climate Preparedness, which will be tasked with coordinating disaster recovery efforts to better respond to natural disaster emergencies in the future. The office will be in charge of putting together a climate preparedness roadmap, which will be a step-by-step action plan detailing what Colorado can do to be better prepared for the future.
“There’s no question we are living through the early stages of the climate change crisis right now. This is, in many ways, an emergency,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder.” We are not going to sit back and watch our state go up in flames, our communities devastated, our neighbors losing everything that they have.”
With the help of a larger than expected Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement from the fires in 2020, nearly $20 million will be invested in obtaining tools to help fight future wildfires — like increased aerial response and the extension of Colorado’s contract of a large air tanker and a second large air tanker, as well as two type 1 helicopters, which are the largest and fastest at responding with hundreds of gallons of water and flame retardant.
“We are competing with other states to extend these contracts, and many of these fires hit at the same time,” Polis said. “We want to make sure that Colorado is ready.”
The money will also go towards ensuring there’s year-round and expanded dispatch services so fire crews can quickly respond to a fire, as well as new tech systems for on the ground firefighting coordination, including in remote areas.
“This package means that Colorado will be heading into the summer months with the most aggressive, most resourced fire response team we have ever had by far,” Fenberg said. “We are taking that action to make sure we are ready for what could be a very devastating fire season if we are unprepared.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, who’s district has been ravaged by the Marshall, East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires, said he and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet sent a letter Friday morning to the House and Senate appropriators asking them to adopt a national strategy to prioritize climate preparedness that includes state and local grant programs for mitigation and adaptation similar to SB206.
“We have to think long term,” Neguse said. “The climate crisis is here and these climate-fueled disasters are going to continue. We have to be prepared.”
State Rep. Judy Amabile, a Boulder Democrat who sponsored a bill that would help address insurance issues related to wildfires, also promised to introduce more insurance legislation next session.
Hours after the legislation announcement, officials with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control also released their outlook for the 2022 wildfire season, where they said they are more prepared than ever before for future wildfires, but stressed the importance of public awareness around activities that can spark a fire — anything from agricultural burning to barbecuing to dragging trailer chains.
Officials also said they plan to set up a state dispatch center for Colorado’s various fire-related resources. This will ensure fire officials have a year-round capability to coordinate with those resources and, when needed, move them to where they are needed the most.
The report and legislation came out on a day of “extremely dangerous” fire danger, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder. Multiple red flag warnings have been issued across much of the eastern half of Colorado for combination of high temperatures, low relative humidity and gusty winds.
The conditions come at a concerning time, with Colorado's median snowpack peaking on April 8, the Colorado River being named the most endangered river in the U.S. and the American Lung Association releasing a report with every county in the Denver metro area and Fort Collins earning a failing grade for high ozone days.