King offers firefighting-fleet bill

Measure won't get first committee hearing for several more weeks

DENVER — A bill to begin the creation of the state’s own air firefighting fleet was introduced into the Colorado Senate on Friday.

The measure, introduced by Sen. Steve King, allows for the purchase, lease or contract of up to three firefighting helicopters and four large aircraft to battle future blazes in the state.

The Grand Junction Republican, who has been pushing for such a fleet for the past two years, said it’s a first step that not only would protect the state’s forests, but also its watershed.

The bill won’t be heard in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee for a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, King is hoping to win some legislative support on Wednesday when he brings in some demonstration helicopters and planes to Centennial Airport on Denver’s south side for state lawmakers to view.

King said the aircraft are being brought in by the British Columbia, Canada-based company, the Coulson Group, which already has a contract with the federal government to convert planes for firefighting use.

“They are the ones that have the cutting-edge delivery systems, and are doing that for the Forest Service,” King said. “They’re turning C-130s into air tankers with their delivery systems, which will give everybody (in the Legislature) an opportunity to look at the delivery systems and the computer system that does that.”

King also managed to get Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Denver, as a chief prime sponsor of the measure, SB164, but doesn’t yet have House sponsors to the bill.

Like the Senate sponsors, he’s hoping to get Democrats and Republicans to sign onto the bill.

Meanwhile, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office hasn’t changed its position on the need for a state-owned tanker fleet, saying there’s still many unanswered questions.

The governor is awaiting a report from his chief of the Division of Fire Prevention and Control, said Eric Brown, Hickenlooper’s press secretary.

Brown said that report, required under a bill King got approved by the Legislature last year, is expected to be completed by April 1. It is to show whether it’s better for the state to maintain its own fleet or continue to contract for fire suppression services as it has in the past.


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