Jun 11, 2014 5:54 PM by Eric Ross

Black Forest fire: Are we better prepared now than we were one year ago?

One year since the devastating Black Forest fire destroyed nearly 500 homes, News 5 is looking into what's being done to improve response times and allocate resources more efficiently should another massive fire ignite.

Perhaps the biggest change we are going to see will come from the aerial firefighting bill Gov. John Hickenlooper signed earlier this year, setting the foundation for Colorado to have its own fleet of helicopters and single-engine tankers.

"We had a good response," Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey told News 5 when asked about managing resources during the fire. "It was almost exceptional considering the location and distance from the first two responding districts which were Black Forest and Wescott."

Chief Harvey witnessed it all. He never imagined he'd be the first in charge of handling what turned out to be Colorado's most destructive wildfire. In doing so, the fire chief took a lot of heat over what Sheriff Terry Maketa says were sluggish response times and mismanaging resources during the initial hours of the fire.

Despite firefighting efforts, Fire Prevention and Control Director Paul Cooke says the Black Forest fire pointed out fatal gaps that needed to be closed.

"We need to do a better job of mobilizing resources," he said.

Under Senate Bill 164, Cooke called for four helicopters and single-engine tankers to be brought on-board, double the number of resources currently available.

"One of the big needs we identified was having an early detection remote sensing aircraft to provide a local incident commander with constant updates as to what the fire is doing," he said.

Cooke says investing in this new technology will help first responders in the air create and send maps to incident commanders on the ground level, helping them make decisions on where to send additional resources and draw fire lines.

With Colorado soon to be a state with its own aerial firefighting fleet, Cooke is confident we will see faster response times.

"Our goal is to be able to put aircraft in the air within 20 minutes of a request and have it on scene at a fire anywhere in the state within an hour," Cooke said.

Funding for the aerial firefighting fleet becomes available July 1, 2014.

From there, the state will enter into bidding contracts.

Cooke says he hopes to see these resources up and running in August or September this year.



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