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A Colorado Fire Chief Sounds Alarm Over Looming Wildfire Impacts

An image of a firefighter fighting a wildfire
Colorado's West Metro Fire Protection District

As the pandemic decimates local budgets across the Mountain West, another threat looms large at local fire stations across the region: wildfires. That has lawmakers and firefighters demanding more federal support.

Don Lombardi, chief of the West Metro Fire Protection District in Colorado, said fire crews will feel the economic impact of COVID-19 particularly hard.

"As our local governments look at revenue shortfalls, unfortunately they're going to look at their fire stations and go, 'You know what? We can probably back off there and roll the dice,' " Lombardi said.

Battling wildfires comes on top of the key role firefighters are playing in community pandemic responses.

"We're the ones going in the houses to take care of these people, when they call 911 and they have these COVID symptoms," Lombardi said.

Lombardi is joining freshmen Western lawmakers in urging Congress to provide more funding ahead of wildfire season.

In an earlier federal funding package, firefighters received $100 million. Lombardi said they need at least $5 billion.

COVID-19 is already causing challenges as fire crews prepare for wildfire season.

“We're going to try to social distance as much as we can while we're in the [fire] camp. But as you can imagine, while we're on the line, that gets to be very, very difficult,” Lombardi said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Do you have questions about COVID-19? How has this crisis affected you? Our reporters would love to hear from you. You can submit your question or share your story here.

Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.
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