House adopts Tipton’s wildfire tanker funding |

House adopts Tipton’s wildfire tanker funding

As a small fire smoldered in northwest Eagle County and wildfires raged in other parts of Colorado, Rep. Scott Tipton added funding for the U.S. Forest Service to lease new air tankers.

Tipton’s 3rd Congressional District includes western Eagle County. The U.S. House of Representatives adopted Tipton’s amendment to the farm bill for leasing new air tankers for fighting wildfires.

Right now, the Forest Service can only lease decommissioned military tankers, and that supply is limited, Tipton said.

Since 2002, the U.S. Forest Service fleet has dwindled from 44 tankers to nine.

“Air tankers are critical for combatting the devastating wildfires that have ravaged Colorado and Western States over the past decade,” Tipton said.

Fire danger increasing

Warm temperatures, strong afternoon winds and low humidity mean conditions are right for wildfire in Eagle County and the rest of Western Colorado.

A three-acre fire was smoldering near Derby Mesa this week in extreme northwest Eagle County.

It’s in a remote area of national forest, said David Vroman, chief of the Gypsum fire department.

The spot is just inside the Gypsum fire district boundary, and Forest Service crews are keeping an eye on it.

So far they haven’t asked for any local help, Vroman said.

The National Weather Service in Grand Junction said afternoon winds are expected to decrease, but we’re in for a dry period until at least early next week. The forecast shows no chance of precipitation until at least June 24.

For now, though, there are no outdoor burning restrictions in Eagle County.

Reducing fire fuel

Tipton said fighting fires from the air is important, but it’s no substitute for preventing them on the ground.

His Healthy Forest and Wildfire Act of 2013 gives local and state officials the authority to designate high-risk areas and move forward with reducing unnaturally dense undergrowth and beetle-killed timber on federal lands.

Of the 6.6 million acres infested by the mountain pine beetle in Colorado, more than 4 million acres — an area larger than Connecticut — are on land managed by federal agencies, Tipton said.

More than 9.3 million acres of land burned in 2012, much of it on or near federal public land, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

It costs much less for proactive, healthy forest management than to fight wildfires and clean up afterward.

According to the Forest Service, in 2012 the agency spent $296 million to thin hazardous fuels across the country. It spent $1.77 billion fighting wildfires.

“We must continue to work to address the conditions in our forests that lead to these fires,” Tipton said. “Taking proactive measures to mitigate hazardous fuels and restore our forests to a healthy, natural state would significantly reduce the occurrence and severity of wildfire and protect the fragile ecology of our forests and water supplies from irreversible damage.”

Last year Colorado experienced two record breaking fires, and already this year the Black Forest Fire has killed two people and destroyed more homes than any other in Colorado history.

In 2012, Colorado wildfires destroyed nearly 650 structures, killed six Coloradans, burned more than 384,000 acres of land and caused over $538 million in property losses.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or