10.25.20

Gardner Thanks Firefighters and First Responders Battling Wildfires Across Colorado

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) spoke on the floor of the United States Senate today thanking the firefighters and first responders who are battling wildfires across the state of Colorado.

Wildfire speech 10-25

NOTE: Click here or the picture above to download Senator Gardner’s remarks.

“So I come to the floor just to thank the men and women who are fighting these fires. To the leaders in these communities, the county commissioners, the sheriffs, the law enforcement personnel, first responders who've done a magnificent job in protecting structures, protecting their communities, protecting their people,” said Senator Gardner. “I hope that all my colleagues will join me in prayers for our state and states across the country that have been affected by wildfires and know that we've got more work to do to prevent the loss of some of our greatest natural resources.”

Remarks as delivered:

Mr. President, I look forward to coming to the floor and speaking about the nomination that's currently before the United States Senate and the nomination of Judge Barrett to be placed on the United States Supreme Court.

But at this point, I think it's important that we talk about what's happening in Colorado as we speak because of the heroic men and women who continue to fight our nation's fires and certainly the devastating and catastrophic fires that we're seeing right now in Colorado. 

This year we've already seen two of the largest fires in Colorado history, burning over 200,000 acres – wildfires that started out at 20,000 acres, 25,000 acres, and then within hours grew 80, 90, 100 thousand acres in a day. That’s unheard of growth for wildfires. 

The picture that I am showing you here is Estes Park, Colorado. Most people may be familiar with Estes Park, it's the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. You can see Lake Estes here and the town here. The town has been evacuated, a town of thousands of people has been evacuated because of two fires that are now threatening the area.

One fire is the Cameron Peak Fire, which became the largest fire in the state history only to be challenged by another fire coming through Rocky Mountain National Park called the East Troublesome Fire. Both are impacting Rocky Mountain National Park, the city of Estes Park, the city of Grand Lake, the City of Granby. Overnight they did receive a winter storm, it's snowing now and it is reducing the fire activity. It will not put the fire out, but my prayers and thoughts continue with the men and women who are fighting this fire so valiantly and the people in these communities who are in harm's way.

We know that homes have been lost. We don't know how many, but we know that homes have been lost and we certainly acknowledge the loss of life that has already occurred, a couple in Grand Lake who stayed in their home when the fire came through. They were together, but we pray for them and their families, and we mourn their loss.

The East Troublesome Fire is in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland. It's got a Type 1 Management Team already assigned. It’s the number one priority of the U.S. Forest Service in the country right now because of the aggressive fire behavior with the spotting that has threatened places like Estes Park. Evacuations, road closures, trail closures, it has over 500 people right now assigned to this fire.

The Cameron Peak Fire has about 1,100 personnel working on the fire right now. We know about 470 structures have been lost, it's over 208,000 acres.

The CalWood Fire in Boulder County has a Type 2 Management Team fighting the fire right now. There are evacuations in effect. Nearly 400 people fighting this fire, 28 structures lost.

The Ice Fire, an ironic name, in the San Juan National Forest near Silverton, Colorado. We know that it's about 600 acres right now.

The Williams Fork Fire, which has been burning for months in Colorado in Grand County, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. We know that there have been several communities and infrastructure, energy infrastructure threatened by all of these fires. And if you think about this entire town being evacuated, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which provides a great deal of water to the Front Range of Colorado and through the South Platte River Valley diversions were stopped, energy production impacted, major utility transmission lines have been lost.

And of course the loss to some of the most magnificent areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, perhaps an untold story that we will learn about in the coming days. This Congress and the past Congress has not been idle in the work that we have done to protect our resources. In fact, this last Congress we put an end to a practice that was known as fire borrowing, which involved raiding accounts that were not meant to go to suppression of wildfires to pay for increasingly expensive firefighting seasons.

The fix for fire borrowing was included in the 2018 omnibus spending package. What that means is we will no longer be cannibalizing funding for fuel reduction, for mitigation that could have prevented a fire like this. Instead, we will be fully funding the firefighting effort and allowing those mitigation dollars, those fuel reduction dollars, to continue to be used so that we can prevent this kind of fire from occurring.

We've also passed legislation for water resilience projects, categorical exclusions to help with forest management. We've passed Healthy Forest Restoration Act language that includes fire and fuel breaks. We've worked on 20 year stewardship contracts with Cottonwood reform.

We've proceeded with reforms to fire hazard mapping initiatives, and to fuels management for protection of electric transmission lines, and Good Neighbor Authority to help make sure that we can continue to give tools to our land managers.

The 2018 Farm Bill built on many of the reforms that we passed in 2014 Farm Bill changes. We've worked to expand the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, doubled its funding, and to help expand Good Neighbor Authorities to Tribes and to counties. All of these tools will help us deal with the wildfires, but certainly they're not going to put this fire out today. 

So I come to the floor just to thank the men and women who are fighting these fires. To the leaders in these communities, the county commissioners, the sheriffs, the law enforcement personnel, first responders who've done a magnificent job in protecting structures, protecting their communities, protecting their people. 

I commend you, and know that you have the support of everybody here in our efforts to give you the tools you need to do your jobs, to be safe, and to protect our greatest resources and communities.

And so Mr. President, again, I look forward to coming to the floor to speak about Judge Barrett and her nomination, but for now, I think it's important that we take this time to recognize the challenge that Colorado faces and the need for continued work in this chamber to address forest management, healthy forest initiatives to make sure that we can prevent these fires.

These are some of the original beetle kill areas that came in 30, 40 years ago, insect dead and downed trees that we knew at some point could be a major challenge if there was a fire and that's exactly what we are seeing.

So Mr. President, I hope that all my colleagues will join me in prayers for our state and states across the country that have been affected by wildfires and know that we've got more work to do to prevent the loss of some of our greatest natural resources.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.