by Pam Zubeck
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa asked on Wednesday for help throughout the region in putting a helicopter and crew into service during times of high-fire danger for early attack on wildland fires.
Speaking to the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, Maketa said it would cost about $1 million to have a helicopter, bambi water bucket and a crew of five ready to verify smoke reports from June 1 through September 30. The helicopter crew would size up the fire and then deliver first water to it, if necessary.
"It behooves us to take a regional approach since we all have an interest," Maketa said.
Utilities has several reservoirs at risk amid the forest, and the county includes miles of heavily populated wildland interface, not to mention the city of Colorado Springs western border, one of the most densely populated wildland interface areas in the nation.
"This aircraft would be for that narrow window of two hours before it makes a run that really is unstoppable, giving us that advantage," Maketa said.
Even though aircraft would be available from Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base, several hours are needed to ramp up, he noted. "That's the window we're trying to fill here."
The Utilities Board, comprised of City Council, expressed interest in working with the county and other partners, which could include Teller County, the Forest Service, the state, The Broadmoor and El Pomar Foundation.
"This is a threat that faces our community and we have a responsibility to try to mitigate that threat," Utilities Board member Joel Miller said.
Other ideas presented by Utilities staff to the board included several early detection and monitoring tools, including a series of sensors, drones and an agreement with the Civil Air Patrol. Costs ranged from thousands of dollars to $2.5 million. Utilities staff will continue to research those options.