COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris joined other national leaders in the nation's capitol to announce new funding to help protect high-risk communities, including here in Colorado, from wildfires ahead of this year's fire season and in the future.
Harris held a 1 p.m. MDT media phone briefing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor to the President and infrastructure implementation coordinator.
She said that global warming has led to warmer, drier weather in the West that has extended the wildfire season year-round, more than ever before.
"Our acres of burned land have doubled," Harris said. "We need to change how we think about how we respond to fires. We need to prevent them, not respond after they've started."
To that end, the Vice President said that $197 million in federal funding will be made available this year to 100 communities in 22 states and 7 Native American tribes.
"There were 36 states and 45 tribes that applied for the funding," she explained. "This is the result of legislation I started years ago while I was in the Senate."
Harris confessed that she was motivated by seeing the recent destructive fires in her home state of California.
"This will be the first of many grants," she promised. "We're committing $1 billion over the next four years and $7 billion over the next ten years."
The only Colorado community recipients of the first round of funds are Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County -- $1.1 million for wildfire mitigation and community education and prevention.
Jenn Jones, a firefighter with the Stratmoor Hills Fire department, just outside of Colorado Springs, said that she's not sure if the funding will be enough to make a significant difference.
"I think where you notice it is probably on that community level," she remarked. "I would guess the communities that get those grants are really able to do some work there, with mitigation and fire prevention. I don't know how you see it on the big scale."
Jones said that at the very least, the funding will help local fire crews offset the rising costs of equipment and gear.
"A few years ago, buying a brush truck was around $500,000," she said. "Now it's up to $750,000. And it costs $1,500 to equip each firefighter. That's pretty expensive, and that stuff gets outdated after a while."
Secretary Vilsack mentioned that some of the funding will pay for salary increases for wildland firefighters, but he didn't specify whether that would include Forest Service crews and/or local crews.
"I'd think it would be for those federal (Forest Service) firefighters," Jones said. "They work really long hours in dangerous conditions and don't get paid much for it. Raising the pay could motivate more people to join and help the situation."
To see the list of recipients, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/fire/grants/funded-proposals.