‘We Still Are Suffering’: Coloradans Discuss Wildfire Recovery & Prevention With Rep. Joe Neguse, State Leaders

(CBS4) – A Colorado congressman is issuing a call to action after three record-setting wildfires last year. Two of those fires happened in Rep. Joe Neguse’s district, which is why he assembled Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado Director of Public Safety Stan Hilkey and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper for a virtual listening session.

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Neguse invited anyone with concerns to show up and provide feedback. More than 800 Coloradans joined the call. One after another they shared stories of homes lost and lives devastated.

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“Our family home burned to the ground September 7,” said one woman. “We had no idea what to do because the entire mountain to the south of our property is burnt to a crisp.”

Several of those who called-in wondered if they would ever be able to rebuild.

“We lost our home in Estes park in 2012,” an emotional caller said. “We still are suffering from our insurance problems.”

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Hilkey offered to do what he could to help.

“I stand ready to try to engage my counterpart in the cabinet, Mike Conway, with a vision of insurance to get him more engaged with all of us on this wildfire conversation,” he said.

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A total of 623 homes and at least two lives were lost in last year’s fires and many Coloradans are worried this year could be worse.

“The majority of evacuation routes are one way in and one way out, and they have trees growing right along the roadways making them non survivable if there was a catastrophic wildfire,” one woman noted.

Hilkey committed to running more evacuation drills. Neguse said he is pushing for $50 billion for forest mitigation. The money would help create what he calls a 21st Century Conservation Corps.

“Really reimagining the Civil Conservation Corps of the 1930s,” Neguse said.

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Neguse and Bennet said they have also secured millions of dollars for watershed protection and restoration and have introduced legislation to provide grant money to help homeowners and local communities recover.

“Incremental changes to the forest service budget are not going to get us where we need to be,” Bennet explained.

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Polis said he has also asked the state legislature to provide funding including $11 million for forest mitigation and $4 million for watershed restoration.