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Colorado bill addressing urban wildfire mitigation passes first hurdle

The state’s wildland-urban interface, referring to areas where people live among the wilderness, continues to expand with increased population and development throughout the state, particularly along the front range.

DENVER (CN) — A bill expanding public awareness of wildfire risks and mitigation along Colorado’s wildland-urban interface passed its first hurdle in the state Senate Local Government committee on Tuesday with a 3–2 vote along party lines.

“The fire season has moved from being a fire season to being a time that occurs virtually all year long,” said Senate Bill 22-7 sponsor Senator Pete Lee (D-El Paso).

While Lee and co-sponsor Senator Tammy Story (D-Boulder) both saw the need for this measure during the summer, the December Marshall Fire also raised a red flag.  

The 6,000-acre Marshall Fire sparked on Dec. 30 and spread quickly across drought-drained land in 100-mph winds, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and businesses.

The Marshall and Middle Fork fires punctuated a year that recorded hundreds of wildfires across the state, burning tens of thousands of acres. Five of the state’s worst fires were recorded in 2020, including the devastating 208,000-acre Cameron Peak Fire.

The Increase Wildfire Risk Mitigation Outreach Efforts bill would create a working group led by the state forest service to design public outreach campaigns and launch Wildfire Awareness Month in 2023 and 2024 directed at people living along the wildland-urban interface.

That interface, referring to areas where people live among the wilderness, continues to expand with increased population and development throughout the state, particularly along the front range.

“When we can get information out to the public and work together in a public and private partnership on wildfire and safety matters, it’s a win,” testified Anne Terry, executive director of the Special District Association of Colorado, in support of the bill.

While the bill ultimately drew support from three Democratic members of the Local Government committee — including one of the bill’s sponsors — two Republican members opposed it.

“There’s a lot of emergency preparedness planning in place, why is this going to work, when all of the other programs haven’t worked?” asked Senator Barbara Kirkmeyer (R-Weld).

Story countered that previous outreach campaigns were steps in the right direction, but more effort was needed.

“It’s important to recognize this effort is to improve and bolster efforts we have had in the past,” Story said. “While the public is aware that we have wildfires, they don’t necessarily understand the depth of their responsibility for wildfires or that they live in the woodland-urban interface.”

The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. Senate Bill 22-7 is one of several measures addresses the state's increasing wildfires this legislative session. Other bills include HB22-1012 Wildfire Mitigation and Recovery and HB22-1011 Wildfire Mitigation Incentives For Local Governments.

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