Sen. Bennet hears need for wildfire prevention during visit to Grand County
As Grand County navigates the losses of the East Troublesome Fire, one resounding call to state officials like Sen. Michael Bennet is a need for mitigation to prevent a similar crisis in the future.
On Friday, the senator visited with Grand County leadership and East Troublesome Fire victims. Bennet’s conversations revealed, in addition to the most pressing needs, the fears this type of situation could repeat itself.
Bennet said he plans to stay in close touch with the county related to immediate needs like housing and infrastructure along with mitigation in the future.
“Over the long haul, what I believe is that we have to start investing again in these landscapes, these watersheds (and) our public lands so we don’t have the kind of threat that we’re going through right now,” Bennet said.
According to data compiled by the Colorado Sun, more then 665,000 acres in Colorado have burned this year surpassing 2002’s record of 605,212 acres.
Of the nearly 200,000 acres burned by the East Troublesome Fire, officials estimate that more than 22,000 acres have burned inside Rocky Mountain National Park; 17,859 on Bureau of Land Management land; 133,803 on US Forest Service land; 832 on state land; and 19,650 on private property. Along with the acreage burned, at least 250 structures have been destroyed and two lives lost.
With the three largest fires in state history all having burned this year, many are asking state and federal representatives to help prevent this type of devastation in the future.
An estimated 70% of Grand County is public land, so an investment in wildfire prevention for agencies like the US Forest Service, which has faced limited funding over the years, could help mitigate risk. Federal land managing agencies have often had to sacrifice funds from areas like mitigation to fight wildfires.
“A lot of that has to do with the fact that we have not made the proper investment in our national forests and in our public lands,” Bennet said. “We need to do that.”
The senator also acknowledged that, just over a week after the overnight 100,000 acre-growth of East Troublesome, these conversations are just the beginning. As the community rebuilds, other problems will likely surface.
“We also need to make sure that we protect our water infrastructure,” he said. “There’s a lot for us to do.”
Bennet sat down with a couple evacuees from the East Troublesome Fire who have lost their homes and are staying at the Vintage Hotel in Winter Park. He heard from them the desire to know as much information as possible, while being overwhelmed by the support from the Grand County community.
Most of all, Bennet said he is here to help Grand rebuild.
“Every kind of situation that I’ve experienced the last 10 years like this — fires, floods, devastation — we always discover how resilient Colorado is and especially our mountain communities,” Bennet said. “Then we build it back stronger than we found it.”
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Grand Concerts is hosting its first live event in 17 months featuring the Boston Brass on Friday at the Headwaters Pavilion in Winter Park.