State’s congressional delegation says it’s unified on wildfire issues
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The announcement that President Obama will visit Colorado Friday to view the destructive wildfires triggered a minor partisan skirmish, as some conservative Republicans suggested that the visit is politically motivated, and questioned the administration’s ability to respond to wildfires.
On the surface, at least, Colorado’s congressional delegation is unified when it comes to the destructive blazes that have destroyed hundreds of homes in just a few short weeks.
The state’s two U.S. senators and seven representatives sent out the following press release:
“Colorado is facing one of the most severe fire seasons on record. The Incident Commanders and their teams – the best firefighters in the world – are in charge of fighting these fires. We are committed to working with the state and the federal governments to support those firefighters on the ground with all of the resources they need to battle and contain these large fires,” the delegation said.
“The administration has assured us that fighting these fires is a top priority, and local emergency responders are acting valiantly. We need every level of government dedicated to containing these fires and ensuring the safety of Coloradans and the health of our forests. Colorado can and will get through this, and the Congressional delegation is unified in working together with all hands on deck to extinguish these devastating blazes.”
“Thousands of Coloradans have been displaced because of these dangerous fires,” the delegation added. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to those families and businesses impacted by this tragedy, along with those working tirelessly to save lives and property. We will get through this difficult time and the delegation is united in working together to support those fighting these fires and all those that are in need.”
But behind the superficial show of unity, there were critical comments from some Republicans about the amount of air support at the Colorado fires, and whether the Obama administration’s response has been adequate.
That prompted Democratic Gov. Hickenlooper to fire back in an exchange with reporters that was broadcast on television.
First, Hickenlooper pointed out that the current string of fires in Colorado and around the West has stretched aerial firefighting resources to the limit, suggesting that the Forest Service may need more resources to combat large fires.
Then he took a shot at the GOP, questioning the criticism.
“Are these the same conservatives that are criticizing Obama for spending too much money, or are these different conservatives?” he asked.
At issue is the number of large air tankers available to drop water and fire retardant. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has already announced a plan to update the fleet with long-range and faster planes, and President Obama recently signed a bill (supported by Udall and Bennet) authorizing the Forest Service to lease more tankers.
Sen. Udall has been working on the air tanker issue for quite some time, advocating for more aerial firefighting resources.