DENVER (KDVR) — Wildfires are becoming more common as we have seen in Colorado and other Western states over the past years. State lawmakers, Governor Jared Polis and state Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway walked through the beginning processes of how they plan to better respond to unpredictable situations presented by Mother Nature.
“Fires are a natural part of the western landscape, the challenge is when they become out of control and can threaten populated areas. So we want to make sure we have additional defenses for homes that are in the wildland, urban interface at both the community level and home level,” Polis explained at a press conference about wildfire prevention and forest health.
The governor and lawmakers are allocating millions to protect those communities in danger. Polis announced the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program, created from legislation passed in 2021, has helped with 41 fire mitigation projects. He announced the state’s Department of Natural Resources will move more than $13 million for fire mitigation efforts and $44 million to protect watersheds threatened by wildfires.
“We are excited to be partnering with the executive branch to roll out how this bill is going to be implemented and how these resources are going to be able to get into the hands of these folks who have suffered devastating losses from these disasters,” Senate President Steve Fenberg of Boulder said.
On top of work done at the Capitol last year, lawmakers are highlighting steps taken this past year set to make a difference soon.
“The Rebuilding Program. This was a core part of Senate Bill 206. It really is for folks who have suffered losses after these natural disasters,” Fenberg said.
SB22-206 is a disaster recovery preparedness plan passed out of the Capitol this year. The Rebuilding Program uses $15 million to provide up to $50,000 in grants and loans and to help homeowners, renters and builders get back on their feet following wildfires and other disasters. People impacted by the following disasters are eligible for assistance:
- 2018 Spring Creek Fire, San Juan and La Plata counties
- 2018 Chateau Fire, Teller County
- 2018 Lake Christine Fire, Eagle County
- 2019 Avalanche debris and flooding risk, Hinsdale County
- 2020 Cameron Peak Fire, Larimer County
- 2020 East Troublesome Fire, Grand County
- 2020 Calwood Fire, Boulder County
- 2021 Muddy Slide Fire, Routt County
- 2022 Marshall Fire and Straight-Line Winds, Boulder County
The new law also requires the state’s insurance commissioner to prepare a report based on the findings of a study the department will have to conduct in hopes of stabilizing homeowners insurance within the state.
“If we can get at the problem of underinsurance, then in the next disaster people will have the resources they need to rebuild and they’ll be a lot more inclined to rebuild in a sustainable and more resilient way because they won’t be scraping for every penny they can get just to replace the house they already had,” state Representative Judy Amabile of Boulder said.
The funds kicked in on the first of July and can start helping people now. Conway said the study is being fast-tracked in hopes of it being wrapped by December so lawmakers can decide if more legislation is needed.
“It isn’t just a pervasive problem in Colorado, it’s a problem throughout the United States and throughout the West in particular. It is not one another state has been able to figure out a solution for but we are going to. We’re going to and you have my commitment to make sure we do,” Conway said.
The bill also creates an Office of Climate Preparedness within the governor’s office to better coordinate responses. They have until December 2023 to get staffed and create a roadmap for state agencies to follow.