DENVER – Colorado lawmakers Thursday advanced a measure that would implement new technology to better predict the direction and intensity of wildfires.
House Bill 1129 passed the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee by a vote of 6-3. It now heads to the Appropriations Committee to address funding. The bill already has passed the House.
“This tool would help us have a better sense of the wildfire’s intensity, what the weather might be doing with it, where we should or shouldn’t send our firefighters to help the people who live in this area to protect property, but most of all, to protect lives,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, a co-sponsor.
The bill was scaled back in the House from its original plan, which would have provided $10 million over five years for both fire and flood technology. Lawmakers were facing budget constraints, so they modified the proposal to only $600,000 in the upcoming fiscal year for the fire portion of the bill.
The “revolutionary” technology was created over 20 years by researchers led by the Boulder-based National Center for Atmospheric Research. It uses advanced weather forecasting to recognize that disasters unfold as they relate to the atmosphere.
With the technology, responders would have access to a coupled weather-wildland fire model, including wind changes, temperature shifts and gust fronts from clouds. Scientists say the system could give responders as much as 12 hours notice.
“This Colorado-developed technology provides Colorado with the unique opportunity to take the lead in putting this powerful capability to work across the state to save lives and protect property,” said William Mahoney, deputy director of NCAR’s Research Applications Laboratory.
There was no opposition testifying against the bill Thursday, allowing it to advance past the committee in less than 25 minutes. Three Republicans voted against the measure, suggesting the price tag was too high, given that lawmakers set aside $20 million last year for an aerial firefighting fleet.
Fire officials support the technology, noting how it could help save firefighters from walking into dangerous situations.
“We have an obligation to utilize technology to make some difference in the way we do business,” said state fire director Paul Cooke.
Roberts said, “Colorado needs to continue to be a leader; this bill helps get us there.”