President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, seen at Denver International Airport, visit Colorado on Jan. 7, 2022, to tour the Marshall Fire damage in Boulder County. Biden was joined by Colorado Democrats Gov. Jared Polis, Rep. Joe Neguse, Sen. Michael Bennet and Sen. John Hickenlooper on Friday’s tour. (Carl Payne for Colorado Newsline)
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited Louisville on Friday to assess the damage from the Marshall Fire and meet with affected families.
The Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses as it burned through Boulder County on Dec. 30, accelerated by high winds and dry conditions. It is the most destructive fire in Colorado history.
Biden arrived in Louisville at approximately 3 p.m., according to a pool report. He was accompanied by Gov. Jared Polis, Rep. Joe Neguse and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper on a tour of the Harper Lake neighborhood, where nearly every home was destroyed.
The president and first lady embraced survivors and gave a challenge coin to 10 fire and rescue officials, according to a pool report.
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Later, he gave remarks at the Louisville Recreation and Senior Center.
“Jill and I and my team have surveyed the damage of the Marshall Fire, and it’s as devastating as it looks on television and it’s as devastating as many of the environmental crises I’ve seen in the last year,” he said.
“I can’t imagine what it was like to be here, in this neighborhood, and see winds whipping up to 100 mph and see flames approaching. Fire, I think, is the most frightening of all dilemmas.”
Biden pledged to work with the Colorado congressional delegation and Polis to make sure the state has “every resource available” to recover. He said the federal government plans to declare a natural disaster area.
Biden also took time to stump for some of his environmental and renewable energy policy priorities, saying that the changing climate is “supercharging” wildfires and other natural disasters. The Build Back Better Act, which has historic climate investments, is currently stalled in Congress.
“The situation is a blinking code red for our nation. The combination of extreme drought — the driest period from June to December ever recorded — unusually high winds, no snow on the ground to start, created a tinderbox. A literal tinderbox. Even if it’s not in your backyard, you can feel the ripple effects of what happened,” he said.
Earlier on Friday, Neguse introduced legislation focused on wildfire prevention and recovery. The Western Wildfire Support Act was first introduced in the Senate over the summer by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat from Nevada.
It is a three-pronged bill aimed at prevention, suppression and recovery from wildfires.
“The unprecedented and terrible Marshall Fire has drawn harsh light on the life-threatening and destructive nature of wild and rangeland fires. We cannot expect our communities to bear the burden of these disasters on their own,” Neguse said in a statement.
“As we endure increasingly worse wildfire seasons, it is critical for the federal government to lend a hand in stopping fires before they start, fighting them if they spread, and helping our communities fully recover after they’ve been contained,” he said.
Specifically, it would direct the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture to create fire management plans for federal lands in the western United States and would give funding to communities to create more defensible space, or the buffer between structures and flammable land.
For suppression efforts, the bill would accelerate the placement of wildfire detection equipment like heat sensors and cameras in at-risk areas. It would also establish a grant program to help government agencies get cutting-edge fire fighting equipment and it would support the research and development of using drones to quell fires.
Finally, the bill would provide $100 million so communities impacted by wildfires can undergo long-term rehabilitation projects.
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