Owens: Other fires now top priorities
The Coal Seam fire slipped to No. 3 on the state’s firefighting priority list Tuesday, said Gov. Bill Owens.
The massive Hayman fire, which grew to 85,000 acres Tuesday, and fires west of Grand Junction took precedence over the fire near Glenwood Springs.
But the governor said he was pleased to see the progress made on the Coal Seam fire since he visited Glenwood Springs on Sunday, the day after the fire blew up.
Owens flew over the Coal Seam fire Tuesday morning and met with media and local officials in a brief press conference.
He was joined by Joe Allbaugh, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Allbaugh’s agency has already approved a fire assistance grant for the Coal Seam fire, which will cover 75 percent of the costs.
Owens said he also moved $10 million in state funds into the Colorado fire insurance fund, which helps counties bear their share of the cost of firefighting.
Costs for the Coal Seam fire have nearly topped $800,000.
Owens defended his statements to national media that “all of Colorado is burning,” noting that the need for straight talk to Colorado residents is more important now than protecting the state’s image as a tourist destination.
On Monday, tourists towns that aren’t facing fire threats sent out press releases saying the state is still a great vacation spot.
“It’s hard to tell Coloradoans that this is a serious time, a time when we have to ban fireworks and open flame, and then suggest nationally that things aren’t so bad,” Owens said.
“My top priority has to be to talk straight to the people of Colorado. We are facing a challenge we haven’t seen in many years.
“This will have an impact on tourism. But for the safety of Colorado, I’ve got to call it as I see it,” he added.
Owens noted that Colorado is in the worst drought in recorded history, and is now fighting the largest wildfire on record. Previously, the state’s largest wildfire burned 17,000 acres.
“For the remainder of the summer, we need to be very, very careful,” Owens said.
Firefighters have enough to keep themselves busy with natural starts to wildfires, he said.
“Let’s not add to their workload,” he said, referring to fires carelessly started by people.
Allbaugh said the drought stretches across the country. FEMA is watching 26 wildfires this week, he said, and the most critical ones are in Colorado.
He came to reassure state and local officials that the federal government will bear most of the costs of firefighting, so the “professionals can get on with their business.”
“President Bush and the Congress will make sure we have enough resources. They understand it’s always better to nip these things in the bud,” Allbaugh said.
He said the fire season is only beginning, and urged all residents to “get with the program” on fire safety.
“Pay attention to your local authorities. Have a family plan. Think about your pets. And use some common sense,” he said.
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UPDATE: Both westbound lanes and one eastbound lane of Interstate 70, according to a 12:20 a.m. update from Garfield County.