CENTENNIAL, Colo. (KDVR) — The moisture coming this week will help relieve some of the dryness the state has experienced, but wildfires could still hit Colorado when least expected.
On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis signed 11 wildfire-related bills across the state. One measure that fire prevention experts are particularly excited about will bring a new tool to help fight fires in the state.
Colorado’s long-anticipated Firehawk helicopter will be ready to work soon after funding for a second one was officially signed off by the governor.
“It’s just amazing, inspiring, to be able to provide this kind of a tool,” said Chief Mike Morgan, director of the Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control. “Not only to keep firefighters safe, giving them a safer work environment, but also the ability to protect communities and everybody’s lives and values at risk related to fire. It’s just an amazing asset and it’s great to have it available to us.”
Two years ago, state lawmakers passed and the governor approved funding for the first Firehawk helicopter to help fight disasters from the sky with Colorado-owned resources instead of waiting on aircraft from elsewhere. During the bill-signing ceremony, the governor highlighted the need for more preventative work on fires.
“This bill that we are signing today authorizes the purchase of our second Firehawk helicopter. This first one, again, is entering service this summer. But we need more. We’ll be able to deploy them across the state as needed. It is the most effective of its kind, performing both firefighting missions, and it will also add some capability of non-firefighting missions,” Polis said.
2nd Firehawk expected by 2024 fire season
With this second purchase, the governor said Colorado will only need to worry about upkeep and maintenance rather than waiting on other states or federal resources. The bill allocating funding for the initial Firehawk was signed into law in 2021.
FOX31 asked Director Morgan if the new aircraft would take the same amount of time to get in the air.
“We’re hoping to have it by the 2024 fire season,” Morgan said. “That may be a little optimistic, it might be 2025, but we’re hoping we are able to get it done a little quicker. We do think, again, because this was the first one for Colorado, the second one will be built the exact same way, so it should shorten those timeframes down.”
Morgan said having the two units in Colorado leaves the state well-covered.
“For baseline purposes, for a lot of the year, two of these will be fine as we see for now, but then as we get shoulder seasons, different drought conditions, we can then bring on contracted helicopters to help shore up the overall deployment models with our preparedness plan that we do for the governor every spring,” Morgan said.
The 2023 bill was sponsored by House Speaker Julie McCluskie, Senate President Steve Fenberg, House Minority Leader Mike Lynch and Sen. Perry Will. McCluskie, Fenberg and Lynch also sponsored the 2021 bill.