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Hickenlooper monitoring fires from Mexico City

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DENVER — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is on a trade mission in Mexico City but told FOX31 Denver that he’s concerned about a potentially disastrous fire season during a phone interview Tuesday morning live on Good Day Colorado.

“This has been a very dry winter and a very dry winter,” Hickenlooper said. “We are sincerely, deeply concerned not just about what’s happened in the last 24 hours, but about what’s going to happen in the future.”

The dry winter only adds to concerns from fire officials, already nervous about the vast stretches of the state covered with beetle-killed timber.

Early, unconfirmed reports that the fire may have started from a controlled burn that was underway, an attempt to clear flammable brush, are a reminder of the Catch-22 of how risky trying to reduce the risk of wildfires can be.

“Controlled burns are one of the ways we try to mitigate against bigger damages,” Hickenlooper said. “And it’s one of those difficult decisions you make in analyzing a controlled burn — what if the weather changes?”

Hickenlooper cautioned the public from jumping to conclusions about what sparked the fire because the cause has yet to be confirmed.

“Lets get all the facts and find out what was the cause of this fire and how did it get out of control so rapidly,” Hickenlooper said.

In the interview, which aired just after 7 a.m. Tuesday, Hickenlooper told FOX31 Denver that he would consider cancelling a meeting with Mexico’s president, scheduled for around 8 a.m. mountain time, if conditions surrounding the fire worsened and he needed to consult with his staff and other state officials.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia is scheduled to visit the fire’s incident command post on Tuesday afternoon, Hickenlooper’s office confirmed.

Colorado’s request for help from FEMA was approved Tuesday around 8:45 a.m., according to Hickenlooper’s office.

FEMA Regional Administrator Robin Finegan approved the state’s request for a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG), upon receiving the state’s request for help with firefighting costs for the Lower North Fork Fire.

At the time of the request, the fire was threatening 128 homes southwest of Denver in forested mountain terrain south of Aspen Park.

The authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant for managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires.

These grants do not provide assistance to individual home or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire.

Hickenlooper, who is leading the economic development trip with 40 Coloradans from both the public and private sectors in an effort to open up trade with Mexico, will return to Colorado on Wednesday.

In the meantime, Hickenlooper reiterated how important it is for citizens living in rural areas to clear scrub brush, dead timber and other flammable materials from their properties.

“What we’ve been working on with citizens not just in Jefferson County, but people all over the state — the beetle kill has created a potential tinderbox, and what we’re relying on is that we make sure that people are clearing their homes to make sure they’re not at risk of a wildfire, putting their families and homes at risk,” Hickenlooper said.

“A big part of the challenge here is that the scale of the beetle kill is something we’ve never before seen in the history of Colorado.

“We continue to seek funds from the U.S. Forest Service and the federal government to help mitigate and remove as much of that kill as possible. We’re not just talking thousands of acres, but millions of acres.”