Updated: January 15, 2014 at 7:45 am
The first wildfire bill of 2014 cleared a committee hearing unanimously Tuesday, as lawmakers began to address a problem that has doubled in scope and damage during the past decade.
"The wildfire problem has generated much more attention here because it's much more of a problem," said Paul Cooke, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, who testified about Senate Bill 8, which would create a website dedicated to fire information.
Cooke said destruction from wildfires has doubled every decade since 1960 and is projected to worsen.
At least 11 wildfire-related bills have already been introduced this session. The legislation deals with everything from a grant program for fire department safety to command jurisdiction during firefighting efforts.
Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Blackhawk, was chairwoman of the Wildfire Matters Review Committee during the legislative interim and said all eight bills that came out of that committee are aimed at increasing public safety and awareness about wildfires.
"This is an ongoing conversation about how to make the forest healthier and safer," Nicholson said. "We used to think about living in the mountains so differently, and we really need to rethink some of the decisions that we used to make that made such good sense to us."
Nicholson said the public needs to be informed about the dangers of having trees too close to homes.
"If you want the whole population to understand something in a different way it takes some education," she said.
And possibly some financial incentives.
House Bill 9 would replace the state's existing tax deduction for fire mitigation expenses to a tax credit. While tax deductions represent a modest tax-break, a tax credit would serve as a financial incentive that could put up to $2,500 in the pocket of homeowners who undertake fire reduction measures.
Sponsored by Nicholson and Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, the bill would allow homeowners to receive half of what they spend on fire mitigation in the form of tax returns over several years.
Cooke said while homeowners were using the tax deduction already, the tax credit is a much greater incentive that would likely result in more wildfire mitigation. A cost analysis for the has not been completed yet.
The website proposed under SB 8 would be dedicated to informing the public, state officials and the media about Colorado wildfires. Known as the Wildfire Information Resource Center, the site would include details about current fires burning as well as fire prevention and mitigation information. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said it would help to unite the state's information on the natural resources and science behind wildfires and the public safety components.
It passed of the Senate Local Government Committee unanimously, but two Republicans expressed reservations about the possibility of information being posted on the website that could impact property values and insurability.
Fiscal analysis from the legislative staff estimates the website would cost $30,957 in 2014 and $26,431 in 2015.
Contact Megan Schrader