Mark Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, welcomed the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Northern Command's responses to his recent inquiry about the lessons learned from their coordinated response to the Black Forest Fire -- the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. Udall said their responses, which cover the strides made since the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, are encouraging and show that the inter-agency cooperation he has fought for is yielding real results for Colorado communities.
"Military and U.S. Forest Service assets were coordinated from the outset of the Black Forest Fire. While our thoughts continue to be with the hundreds of Coloradans who lost their homes, firefighters assisted by military resources saved countless lives and properties," Udall said. "These letters are encouraging and underscore what I saw on the ground when I visited the incident command center: Our military and civilian agencies have worked hard the last two years to improve communication and collaboration. There is always room for improvement, which is why I agree with the U.S. Forest Service that we need a full after-action review."
The response letters from U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs and the U.S. Forest Service in Washington said they and local authorities were better able to protect lives and homes by:
- Immediately requesting military support -- including helicopters from Fort Carson's new Combat Aviation Brigade -- to fight the Black Forest Fire;
- Regularly reviewing opportunities for support, as needed, which ensure seamless assistance from the military's aircraft, ground crews, bulldozers and other assets; and,
- Activating the military's air tankers, the Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS), within 24 hours of the blaze starting -- the fastest response time ever.
Udall's work to get the U.S. Forest Service and military to review their responses to the Black Forest Fire built on the after action review that was conducted at his request for military and U.S. Forest Service leaders immediately after 2012's Waldo Canyon Fire. That inquiry complements his work to ensure the continued study of wildfire behavior and response efforts to make sure we are better prepared for future fires.
Udall has been a leading voice for ensuring that Colorado and the West have adequate resources to prepare for the threat of wildfire, including pressing the U.S. Forest Service to quickly adopt the Government Accountability Office's recent recommendations on how to update its air tanker fleet. He also led the recent fight to ensure the Forest Service was able to cut through red tape and secure seven next-generation air tankers. One of the next-generation air tankers Udall fought to acquire helped fight the Black Forest Fire.
Udall also pushed to pass a bipartisan amendment to the U.S. Senate's 2014 budget to allocate $100 million more for wildland firefighting and he successfully secured federal funds to repair drinking-water supplies damaged by 2012's Waldo Canyon and High Park fires.