Governor cites progress, but ‘not too optimistic’ about wildfires

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LARIMER COUNY, Colo. – Governor John Hickenlooper praised the efforts of firefighters battling wildfires across 273 square miles of Colorado land Tuesday, noting progress made toward containing the devastating High Park Fire in Larimer County.

 “I’m not going to be too optimistic because I’m very superstitious,” Hickenlooper said from the High Park Fire incident command center. “But all the hard work that’s happened up here – it does seem like they’re making serious progress.”

Three of the 10 largest fires in Colorado history were either burning or in the process of being contained Tuesday.

The High Park Fire, which has burned over 83,000 acres and is 55-percent contained, is number 2 on the list, behind 2002’s Hayman Fire. The Last Chance Fire, which was 100-percent contained after growing to over 40,000 acres near Last Chance in less than a day, is No. 4. And the Little Sand Fire, which is at 22,000 acres and 29-percent containment near Pagosa Springs, was recently upgraded to No. 10

The cost of fighting the High Park Fire has reached $32 million. When asked what percentage of that price tag will fall on the federal government vs. the state, Hickenlooper said the split would “probably” be 60-40 in favor of the federal government.

Hickenlooper used much more definite terms when speaking about the prospect that any of the fires could have been started intentionally by an arsonist. Teller County has now issued a reward for information on a potential arsonist who may have set 10 fires in three days.

“It infuriates me,” Hickenlooper said. “It makes my blood boil. It creates a physical reaction in me because there may be somebody out there who gets a kick, some sort of joy (from starting a fire).

“If there is someone who’s starting a fire with mitigating circumstances like this, they can get almost 50 years in jail. … It’s a guarantee we’ll throw everything but the kitchen sink at them.”

The public photos that emerged of Hickenlooper with the man accused of impersonating a High Park firefighter were also up for discussion. The Governor said he would still pose for the pictures with Michael Maher if he had it to do over again.

“If someone’s an imposter, that certainly cheapens it a little bit, but you can’t control that,” Hickenlooper said. “That’s not going to stop me from doing anything I can do to support morale.”

As far as whether or not he would offer support to local officials in some of the state’s counties who are refusing to ban fireworks despite high fire danger, Hickenlooper was once again calculated.

“We’re a local-ruled state,” Hickenlooper said. “If the sheriff in that county is convinced they can be absolutely sure they’re not going to get a fire out of their fireworks … I think they should be allowed to do it.”

That hasn’t stopped his office from making a few phone calls.

“Every time we hear about it someone in the governor’s office tries to reach out and say, ‘Are you sure?’”