Mar 4, 2021 - News

Colorado eyes a new firefighting tool: A $24 million Firehawk helicopter

A firefighting helicopter battles flames from a fire near Evergreen in July 2020. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Colorado is spending big money to amplify its ability to fight wildfires after the historic 2020 season scarred vast swaths of the state.

The state of play: "Based on this last year's experience there is recognition that the state needs to be better prepared," said state Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Democratic budget writer.

By the numbers: A series of mid-year budget bills at the state Capitol includes $57 million in new spending to prevent and respond to fires. The package includes:

  • The purchase of a $24 million Firehawk helicopter that arrives in 2022 and an additional $6.8 million to lease one in 2021 and cover costs.
  • An additional $8.8 million for leasing other firefighting air tankers and helicopters.
  • $6 million to thin forests and trees that fuel fires.
  • $300,000 for drones that can drop firebombs.

The intrigue: The helicopter — Gov. Jared Polis’ big ticket item — drew pressing questions from lawmakers ahead of initial votes Thursday in the Democratic-controlled state House.

What they're saying: The state has not made a purchase like this before, but McCluskie defended the move.

  • "Something like the Firehawk can be a real game changer to tackle those fires quickly," she said.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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