Governor John Hickenlooper was in Rifle Wednesday at a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new wildfire research center.
The Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting will officially open later this summer but, elected leaders from around the state gathered Wednesday for an unofficial welcome.
"We are pleased as punch to have the Center of Excellence here, at Rifle/Garfield County Airport," said Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson.
He said the facility will put Rifle on the map.
"We envision this to become a world class operation - something that will help in research and development in fighting fires."
A law passed by the Colorado legislature last year created the center. It’s meant to research, test and evaluate aerial techniques used in firefighting. For example, one of the center’s first projects will be to look at whether night bucket drops from helicopters are beneficial for fighting fire. Gov. Hickenlooper says this kind of research is critical.
"I don’t care which side of the fence you’re on on climate change and whether it’s getting worse or whether mankind is involved, but we are seeing more wildfires across this country and especially in the American West, and we need to get a lot better on how we address fires."
Seven cities bid for the center but Rifle was chosen because of widespread community support, a high incidence of wildfires and agency partners in the area. It will open in July.
KDNK in Carbondale helped with the reporting of this story.