DENVER - Nine months after calling for a ban of prescribed and slash burns on state land, Governor John Hickenlooper on Wednesday acknowledged it was time to reverse course on the latter but keep intact the ban on prescribed burns, at least for the time being.
Sitting inside the west foyer of the State Capitol, Governor Hickenlooper signed a series of Executive Orders he hopes will better prepare the state for what could be another tough fire season.
"The real goal, ultimately, is to make sure we keep Colorado safe," said the Democratic governor. "We know we had an unprecedented fire season last year."
Under Executive Order 2013-002, the state will allow for slash pile burning under controlled conditions and new guidelines. Following the Lower North Fork Fire in Jefferson County last spring, the state forbid all prescribed and controlled burning by state agencies on state lands.
The new standards require slash pile burns to take place "as early in the morning as possible" and to be done "only after proper notification of residents." It also requires the burns to occur "only on days when there is adequate snow cover."
Paul Cooke, the Director of the Division of Fire Protection in the state, said he believes there might be as many as 14,000 unburned slash piles on state land right now.
Other Executive Orders signed by the governor creates the Task Force on Wildfire Insurance and Forest Health to "examine how to best protect property and people within and adjacent to the wildland-urban interface." It's thought as many as one in four Coloradans live in the so-called red zone, an area prone to reoccurring wildfire.
Governor Hickenlooper couldn't say when the state might once again allow prescribed burns on state land but acknowledged the importance of a healthy program in combating wildfires.
"The experts I have talked to feel this is a crucial part of fire mitigation in the wildland-urban interface," he said.
In 2012, Colorado lost more than 600 homes in the most-destructive fire season in the state's history. Six people died in three forest fires. It's thought the total bill for insured losses will easily top half a billion.
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)