Educators discourage helicopter parenting, in which mom or dad race to the school if Johnny forgets his lunch box or a math assignment. Fine, discourage it. Just don’t get down on helicopter governing.
When talking about top-down politics, or high falutin bureaucrats, it should be a good thing. It should mean we have government employees solving our problems from the air.
That’s why we’re glad to see Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, Republican State Sen. Bob Rankin, and Democratic State Rep. Julie McCluskie demanding a big, strong, speedy helicopter to help fight wildfires.
“I want to thank Senator Rankin, Representative McCluskie and all of the members of the Joint Budget Committee for supporting wildfire response and mitigation, which will help give Colorado the tools we need to catch and suppress wildfires before they get out of hand,” Polis said last week during his State of the State address.
It is a perfect and non-partisan role for a state government that too often loses sight of transportation, education, public safety, and other core responsibilities.
A cornerstone of the budget committee's $78 million wildfire package is the proposed purchase of a $24 million Firehawk firefighting helicopter converted from a Sikorsky Blackhawk. The Firehawk can load up to 1,000 gallons of water — three times the capacity of a traditional firefighting copter — in just 45 seconds. With a full water tank, it can fly at about 140 miles an hour from a water source to a fire. It can carry a dozen fully outfitted firefighters to the scene.
Despite urban legend that says flying firefighting contraptions are for show, the men and women who fight fires on the ground tell amazing stories of aircraft dowsing fires in early stages. They tell of aircraft helping to contain established fires before they consume entire neighborhoods.
Colorado should never forget the early days of the Waldo Canyon fire on the west edge of Colorado Springs in June of 2012. Before it caused the evacuation of 32,000 residents, killed two people, and destroyed 346 homes, Waldo was a babu monster — just a few twigs and trees burning in the middle of a massive forest.
As the small fire sent a white plume into the air for most of southern Colorado to see, two C-130s retrofitted for firefighting sat on the tarmac at Peterson Air Force Base only moments away by air. They sat for days, inactive, because of government regulations and red tape. They sat, the fire grew, and worried residents wanted more water and retardant falling from the sky.
A wildfire works like cancer. Time is the destroyer’s greatest asset. The more time it takes personnel and equipment to counter the fire, the more time heat and flames have to consume trees and structures and ecosystems essential to humans and wildlife.
Investments in prevention are a big deal in politics these days. John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s special envoy for climate, wants taxpayers to spend trillions on a far-fetched effort to stop climate change by reducing carbon emissions. The expense is nothing, he tells us, relative to generations of hurricanes that rip through heavily populated coastal areas. As if his spending would stop them.
The prevention argument doesn’t withstand much scrutiny when pitching The Green New Deal and other socialistic measures wrapped in climate change fears.
That’s because hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and wildfires have tormented this planet for centuries. They routinely destroyed crops, trees, and structures for hundreds of years before a single human burned natural gas or oil. If the Dust Bowl showed up in 2021, socialists would blame anthropogenic global warming without reservation. The fact remains, this world could eliminate all fossil fuels — in food packaging, construction, clothing, and all transportation — and we would not stop deadly hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires. They would continue around the globe, annually, as they always have.
Stopping or containing wildfires, by contrast, is something humans can achieve by making it a financial priority. A $24 million helicopter could pay for itself by saving only one neighborhood or small community. It is an investment with an absolute return we can reasonably predict and measure.
Los Angeles County acquired three Firehawks in the early 2000s to serve a total area of about 5,000 square miles, much of which is forested. Colorado, by contrast, contains at least 32,000 square miles of forestland.
The acquisition of one Firehawk is a great investment and a good start. In the certain event this acquisition saves lives and hundreds of millions in property over the next few years, the state government should buy more of them. The U.S. Forest Service should invest heavily in these machines and other equipment that can stop fires before they destroy and kill.
Society should worry about climate change and take reasonable measures to reduce human contributions to the problem. It should embark upon better forestry management doing a better job of culling trees and removing dangerous debris from the forest floor. Let’s continue educating the public to help prevent forest fires.
Meanwhile, with a sense of urgency, we should prepare to do better at fighting fires that pose imminent threats to human life, homes, wildlife, and trees. Governments with all the world’s tax dollars probably cannot manage the climate and stop natural disasters. They can and should mitigate emergencies, by land, sea, and — increasingly — from the air.