Following a devastating record year when wildfires burned nearly a quarter of a million acres and killed six people in Colorado, there have been calls for the state to buy its own fleet of helicopters and air water tankers.
That's not needed, says Paul L. Cooke, the head of the state's Division of Fire Prevention and Control in a report issued Friday and reported in The Denver Post. Instead the state needs to focus its efforts on early detection and suppression. "As simplistic as it sounds, our goal is to keep wildfires that threaten people and property small."
The report calls for spending more than $33 million in the next fiscal year. Cooke said aircraft needed to fight fires should be contracted from private operators on an as-needed basis. "The large capital investment cost of procuring, revitalizing and modify air tankers does not present a best-value approach to meet Colorado's wildfire management goals," he said.
In California, which has its own fleet of aerial firefighting planes, CalFire officials said last week they plan to hire more than 200 additional seasonal firefighters. CalFire has already responded to more than 800 wildfires this year -- a more than 200 percent increase compared to the first three months of previous years.
What was once a seasonal disaster now seems to be year-round. It is rare, we aren't reporting wildfires in some part of the country nearly every week.
And it is not just the mentions in the news of wildfires, the cost of fighting fires has more than tripled in the past decade.
According a report by Dr. Ross Gorte developed for Headwaters Economics of Bozeman, MT, the six top fire seasons since 1960 have occurred since 2000. In the 1990's less than $1 billion was spent by the federal government each year. Since 2002 that cost has risen to more than $3 billion each year.
The increase in cost is due to more severe fire seasons combined with the increasing numbers of homes that have been built in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), the report says.
While global warming is certainly to blame in some of the cost increase, the report sugests financial incentives and disincentives could discourage building in the WUI. Amongst the suggestions are: eliminating the home mortgage deduction on houses built in wildfire prone areas, requiring federal wildfire insurance for buildings near national forests, changes in local zoning regulations.
Headlines like these, annoy me. In the Internet age, many people don't read beyond the headlines and yesterday you could have concluded the threat of major hurricanes hitting the Atlantic Coast, was a thing of the past. But that's not what the report said.
The report said global warming may make it less likely that the atmospheric steering currents will send a large storm into the Atlantic Coast but -- and here's the rub -- the study said global warming will also be responsible for the rising sea-level and creating stronger storms. The latter two effects are likely to vastly outweigh the steering current changes, the study concluded. That sure isn't what most of the headlines said.
The U.S. House and Senate have both passed bills, but they are so different that some of the farm community have expressed doubts that any bill can pass.
The last farm bill expired Sept. 30, and the lack of a new legislation has caused an anxious month for many farmers who have been unable to enroll in conservation programs, and are uncertain if past crop subsidies will be continued.
Fewer than 25,000 homes and businesses in Colorado are covered by flood insurance according to reports in USA Today and the Denver Business Journal. In the counties hardest hit by last week's flooding, the percentage of coverage numbers in the single digits. To the casual reader, not having flood insurance where a creek is likely to someday flood, seems foolish. But getting flood insurance, and the right coverage isn't always easy.
It isn't just homeowners and businesses that are in the floodplain that should have flood insurance, at least a minimum amount of flood insurance should be included in every business and homeowners basic policy. Carole Walker of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association told a Journal reporter that nearly 25 percent of flood insurance claims come from low to moderate risk areas.
But in those low to moderate risk areas, just finding an agent to sell such a policy isn't always easy.
Several years ago our basement filled with nearly 4-feet of water during an intense rainstorm that sent water cascading down a hill that isn't even close to a floodplain. Although we had volunteered to help after many other disasters, it was a very different experience to have to "mud-out" our own house and replace all of our basement appliances.
Resolving not to get caught without flood insurance ever again, I tried to buy flood insurance. I called my local insurance agent who scoffed at the idea we needed flood insurance but then admitted his agency didn't sell flood insurance, nor did he have any recommendations. It took quite a lot of time to track down a reliable agency just to get a quote. Without a recent flood experience, many homeowners won't spend the time and even if they do, the insurance they have may not be adequate.
Several years ago when DNN covered flooding in Nevada that occurred when
a irrigation pond dam failed, I remember talking with a business owner
who had purchased flood insurance. I was surprised -- flood insurance in
the high desert? But he had anticipated the pond might someday break
and he felt he was prepared. Unfortunately, his insurance covered the
building's structure, not its contents. Like mine, his agent didn't know much about flood insurance and hadn't advised him properly.
When I interviewed the business owner, he was trying to determine if he had the
resources to reopen.
Just emphasizing the need for flood insurance through Public Service Announcements and in general press coverage isn't enough. Insurance agents need more training and there needs to be an easier and comprehensive way for any home or business owner to acquire flood insurance.
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