A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:
The Coloradoan, June 16, on a state aerial firefighting fleet:
Sheriff Terry Maketa and others directing the human effort to control the Black Forest fire made perfectly clear their appreciation of the quick and substantial air support from pilots who dropped thousands of gallons of water and slurry on the fire.
The aerial response was a stark contrast to the slow response last summer. As the Waldo Canyon fire raged out of control, two of the country's eight C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) sat on the ground for more than two days. They were moments from the raging fire, yet bureaucrats wasted days before getting them in the air to help men and women who were risking their lives on the ground.
When the Black Forest fire erupted on Tuesday, aircraft began attacking that afternoon. Joining the attack was a DC-10 that dropped four times the slurry in each mission than any other aircraft can carry.
Armchair experts are full of bluster when it comes to aerial assaults on fires. They argue that aircraft have little effect at controlling fires. They tie themselves in knots defending bureaucratic inefficiencies, even going so far as to argue that seconds, hours - even days - don't really matter much when it comes to deploying firefighting. They say large aircraft cannot maneuver well over mountainous terrain.
"All nonsense," says Rick Hatton.
A former Marine fighter pilot who flew F-4s during Vietnam, Hatton is president and CEO of 10 Tanker Aerial Firefighting - the company, based in Victorville, California, that owns and operates the DC-10 that flew missions over the Black Canyon fire. His planes are the world's largest operational firefighting machines.
Hatton's company owns two DC-10s and works under a new contract with the U.S. Forest Service. He insists the planes are so effective that one completely extinguished the 177 fire last summer near Phoenix.
"Normally, they don't call us until the fire is huge," Hatton said. "We were deployed to that fire before it had a chance to get out of control and we were able to paint brush it. We passed over it five times, and the commander on the ground told us it was out."
Hatton reminds us that all big fires begin as small fires. When a pilot drops 12,000 gallons of retardant on a small fire, the benefit is enormous. This should be self-evident. The larger the fire gets, the less benefit we see from any attack by air or ground.
Politicians are talking about the need for a Colorado aerial firefighting fleet. It's a no-brainer. When all the numbers are in, the Black Forest fire may cost our community up to a billion dollars or more. We cannot put a price on the two lives that were lost. Just the more than 400 homes that were destroyed, discounting all other expenses, represent costs of hundreds of millions incurred over the three days.
The Gazette urges Mayor Steve Bach, Gov. John Hickenlooper, state legislators, county commissioners, City Council members, Sheriff Terry Maketa, fire chiefs, insurance executives and others to get serious about establishing and funding an aerial firefighting unit, based in Colorado Springs, that authorities could deploy the moment a wildfire begins.
The Fort Morgan Times, June 13, on fire and the Black Forest:
Regardless of whether there is an official fire ban in Morgan County, this is not the best time to start any fires for any reason — even for business like agriculture.
It does not take long for Colorado weather to dry out vegetation. Only a few weeks ago, it seemed like the area was drenched in moisture, but winds and high heat have changed that quickly. Crops are suffering, pastures are withering and the area is ripe for a wildfire.
Those dry conditions are why the state is seeing some big fires right now in Black Forest and near the Royal Gorge.
Inevitably, some homeowner blames the government for his home burning down, but it is not always justified. One Black Forest resident was saying not enough was done to prevent this kind of wildfire.
However, one of our reporters once covered the Black Forest area in the mid-2000s. During that time, there was a big push to get homeowners in the area to clean out brush and vegetation from around their houses, and to cut down trees that were too close to their homes. Officials also pleaded with people to cut down beetle-killed trees that are perfect for feeding fires.
Not many people paid attention, and now they are paying the price. And even if one homeowner did fire proof his property, his neighbor did not.
Of course it is easy to tell people what to do, but getting it done is harder.
For one thing, people who live in Black Forest want the trees around them. They do not want a suburban atmosphere. The terrain in Black Forest is more like a mountain forest.
On top of that, it can be a hard job to fire proof a home in a pine forest — or an expensive one. Cutting down trees is not for amateurs, and cleaning out brush and weeds continuously is a backbreaking job. Staying ahead of growing plants can be nearly impossible if a person also has a job.
We can help save ourselves a similar fate by just not setting any fires for the foreseeable future.
It might be tempting to burn that trash or clear out a section of land, but don't do it.
The Denver Post, June 15, on Secretary of State Scott Gessler's ethics case:
The battle over whether Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler should have used state funds for a partisan junket has now cost taxpayers 100 times more than the original expense of the trip.
As The Denver Post's Joey Bunch reported, the state has spent at least $143,000 on an ethics investigation of Gessler and the related legal fees for his office and those of the ethics commission.
The result of all this? The ethics commission ruled, in two bipartisan votes, that Gessler, a Republican, had breached the public trust by spending $1,278 from his office's discretionary account to attend a conference of the Republican National Lawyers Association and by sweeping $117 from the fund without submitting any receipts.
We should note that a separate, criminal investigation is pending.
The Republican lawyers conference was in Sarasota, Florida, in August 2012 and overlapped with the Republican National Convention in Tampa, which Gessler also attended. Gessler submitted a reimbursement request for $1,452 for the trip, which was clearly a partisan event.
The ethics commission, on a 5-0 vote, ruled that $1,278 of that spending was indeed for partisan purposes, not official business. Gessler actually paid back that amount, but it was in May, many months after liberal-leaning Colorado Ethics Watch first filed its complaints in October about the matter with the ethics commission.
And the payback came just as Gessler was publicly pondering a run for governor in 2014.
We said back in October that Gessler should have simply immediately repaid the money, something that could have diminished the case against him or at least helped his public image.
But to go a step further, we believe Gessler's troubles might have been avoided altogether had he just sought an opinion from the ethics commission before taking the trip. That's what many officials and state agencies do, and while the answer is sometimes "no," at least they have clarity.
The Loveland Times-Call, June 16, on National Security Agency surveillance:
News that the National Security Agency is spying on citizens sent many Americans scurrying to read "1984."
George Orwell's classic novel, which warns against the rise of a totalitarian state, hit the best-seller lists again this week, 64 years after it was first released, and 29 years after interest surged during its namesake year.
Even three decades ago, the idea that America would spy on its citizens seemed remote. But after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the U.S. has beefed up efforts to ferret out information about potential attacks in hopes of preventing them.
Americans may fear that "Big Brother is watching you," but most want someone watching out for the country. A Pew Research Center survey shows 56 percent think it's acceptable for the government to have access to phone data to investigate potential terrorism.
The question becomes just how much privacy we are willing to give up.
And so this weekend, countless Americans, some using telescreens that both send and transmit (Orwell couldn't have known they'd eventually be called Kindles, Nooks and iPads or that they'd be smaller than he envisioned), will reread the book rooted in post-World War II fears of the rise of a totalitarian state that used surveillance to keep its citizens in line.
They will read: "... the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival."
But it is not unavoidable.
Sen. Mark Udall and a handful of other legislators privy to the privacies we've lost have tried unsuccessfully to pare back surveillance, but until Edward Snowden went public with his claims the government had forced Verizon to turn over the phone records of millions of Americans to the secret spy program Prism, their worries fell mostly on deaf ears.
Americans now need to give strong instruction on just where to set that line to prevent our government from going too far.