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Colorado should pay attention as California fires cost $285 million in six weeks
Colorado seems to be learning from California’s mistakes, where protecting overpopulated regions is costing as much as $13 million a day. 

Colorado should pay attention as California fires cost $285 million in six weeks

By Tom Boyd

August 13, 2008 —  It’s getting more and more difficult to drive along Colorado’s I-70 without picturing the mountain sides consumed by a wild blaze. And for a preview of what it may look like – and what it may cost – Colorado need look no further than California.

The cost of wildfires in the most overpopulated state in the Union has reached $13 million a day, according to reports from MSNBC and the Associated Press, with a bill of $285 million in the past six weeks. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has deferred wages for state workers in an attempt to make a firewall against the massive expenses in a state where the deficit has attained a staggering $15.2 billion.

Colorado may look to California for Hollywood trends and fashion, but it most certainly should not follow in its footsteps when it comes to fire protection and mitigation.

Happily, there are some great differences between the two states. Most of California’s wildfires are in Chaparral ecosystems, made up of scrub oak and other small trees and bushes. Colorado’s lodgepole pine fires we are likely to experience here are still 10 or 20 years in the future, when the dead-standing timbers fall to the ground. This gives us time to prepare as best as possible, and efforts are already underway.

We are already paying for it, spending about $1,300 an acre to clear fire mitigation zones around our communities to protect homes and other man-made structures from obliteration once the fire comes. As the price of fuel increases, however, so does the cost of moving downed trees out of these fire protection zones – and it may cost as much as $10,000 an acre to continue some helicopter operations in the Vail Valley.

As David O. Williams reports on this website, the preparations for wildfire are already costing millions. But one need only look toward our skies, where smoke from California sometimes whitens the otherwise blue Colorado skies, to know that a penny spent today is a penny saved tomorrow.



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