DENVER — President Barack Obama will make federal health insurance available to about 8,000 temporary wildland firefighters, a White House official said Tuesday.

Despite the grueling and dangerous work they do, the 8,000 firefighters aren't covered by federal health insurance because they are temporary seasonal employees. Under federal personnel rules, such employees can't buy into federal health insurance plans.

The White House official said firefighters will get access to federal insurance plans this month. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Obama's decision hasn't been formally announced.

Temporary seasonal firefighters make up more than half of the 15,000 wildland firefighters on the federal payroll this busy wildfire season.

Obama's decision was first reported by The Denver Post and came after stories by The Post, The Associated Press and others about the firefighters' dilemma.

Members of a South Dakota-based hotshot crew who fought massive wildfires in Colorado and other states this year launched a petition drive seeking health benefits, largely out of anger over a colleague who was left with a $70,000 hospital bill after his son was born prematurely.

Their petition quickly gathered more than 125,000 signatures, bolstered by this year's historic fire season in the West and the ongoing national debate over health care.

"That's amazing. Wow," said Constance Van Kley, wife of firefighter Nathan Ochs, when she was told of Obama's decision. The couple had no health insurance when their son, Rudy, was born seven weeks premature in 2008.

The hospital forgave most of their $70,000 bill, but it was their experience that spurred Ochs, John Lauer and other firefighters to start their petition drive.

"When we were talking about it in our kitchen 2 1/2 months ago, John thought he'd be working on it for about a year and there was a 5 percent chance it would go anywhere at all," Van Kley said.

"It makes me feel really hopeful that you can look at a problem, see a problem, and get this kind of response in this amount of time," she said. "We feel really heartened to know that people care about the work that firefighters do."

Lauer said he was "awestruck" by the speed of the decision.

"It really is going to make a big difference in a lot of people's lives," he said.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., introduced legislation Tuesday that would give the firefighters access to federal insurance benefits, but Obama's move apparently makes that unnecessary.

The White House official who confirmed Obama's decision said the president had ordered the Agriculture and Interior departments, which hire the bulk of federal firefighters, and the Office of Personnel Management to open the insurance plans to firefighters.

DeGette said she was elated by the decision.

"In recent weeks, this fight has clearly reminded all of us of what we owe to the people whose sacrifice and personal risk protect our homes, our families, and our communities," she said in a written statement.

Firefighters are covered by workers compensation if they're hurt on the job, but that doesn't cover offseason health problems or help their families.

The National Federation of Federal Employees, a labor union, estimates it would cost the federal government $17.5 million a year to pay its share of premiums for seasonal firefighters working for the Forest Service, which employs about 70 percent of federal firefighters. The rest work for the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies.

Since 2003, 157 people have died battling wildfires in the U.S., according to the International Association of Wildland Fire. Injury statistics were unavailable.

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  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • This aerial photo shows the destructive path of the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows subdivision area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 28, 2012. Colorado Springs officials said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging wildfire. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)

  • A helicopters flies over as the Waldo Canyon Fire continues to burn Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • A helicopter flies over as the Waldo Canyon Fire continues to burn Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents.(AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • A slurry bomber drops fire retardant on the Waldo Canyon Fire Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • The sun sets on the front range where the Waldo Canyon Fire continues to burn Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • Pikes Peak is shrouded in orange smoke as the Waldo Canyon Fire continues to burn Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • This aerial photo taken on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, shows burned homes in the Mountain Shadows residential area of Colorado Springs, Colo., that were destroyed by the Waldo Canyon wildfire. More than 30,000 have been displaced by the fire, including thousands who frantically packed up belongings Tuesday night after it barreled into neighborhoods in the foothills west and north of Colorado┬'s second-largest city. (AP Photo/John Wark)

  • A helicopter flies past the charred mountainside above Queens Canyon as the Waldo Canyon Fire burns Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Jerilee Bennett)

  • A plume of smoke rises from Ute Pass in the direction of Woodland Park as the Waldo Canyon Fire burns Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Jerilee Bennett)

  • A helicopter heads out for a drop to battle the Waldo Canyon Fire north and west of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • After being grounded for hours by high winds, a helicopter takes off to battle the Waldo Canyon Fire north and west of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • A helicopter drops water as the Waldo Canyon Fire burns Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

  • Helicopters fly over as the Waldo Canyon Fire burns Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

  • A helicopter drops water as the Waldo Canyon Fire burns Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

  • Small fires smolder in the Mountain Shadows area as the Waldo Canyon Fire burns on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

  • Some homes are left scorched by The Waldo Canyon Fire, while others survived, in the Mountain Shadows area of Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, June 27, 2012. The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    Fire from the Waldo Canyon wildfire as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Gaylon Wampler)

  • Parkside neighborhood in Mt. Shadows. Image via <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4167559318285&set=a.1042850282512.8779.1563250549&type=1&theater" target="_hplink">Facebook</a>.

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    A plume of smoke rises behind homes on the Waldo Canyon wildfire west of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. A large number of homes were destroyed by the fire Tuesday night in subdivisions west of Colorado Springs. Authorities say it remains too dangerous for them to fully assess the damage from a destructive wildfire threatening Colorado's second-largest city. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Homes are destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows area of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. A stubborn and towering wildfire jumped firefighters┬' perimeter lines in the hills overlooking Colorado Springs, forcing frantic mandatory evacuation notices for more than 9,000 residents. (AP Photo/The Gazette,Jerilee Bennett)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

  • Western Wild Fires

    Flames and smoke from the Waldo Canyon Fire surround a home as it races down into western portions of Colorado Springs, Colo. on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 leaving a trail of destruction and burning homes and buildings in it's path. Heavily populated areas in the fire's path have been affected. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • CO Wildfire 2012

    Veiw from Garden of Gods Road

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    Fire from the Waldo Canyon wildfire as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Gaylon Wampler)

  • Western Wild Fires

    Flames of the Waldo Canyon Fire races down into western portions of Colorado Springs, Colo. on Tuesday, June 26, 201. The flames approach a residential neighborhood heading north and leaving a trail of destruction, burning homes and buildings in it's path. Heavily populated areas in the fire's path have been affected. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • Western Wild Fires

    Flames from the Waldo Canyon Fire move quickly move through the western side Colorado Springs, Colo. causing several structures and homes to burn on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The fire made a massive run late in the day leaving a trail of destruction, and burning homes and buildings in it's path. Heavily populated areas in the fire's path have been affected. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • The Waldo Canyon Fire begins to burn homes north of Garden of the Gods Road in northwest Colorado Springs, Colo., on the fourth day of the blaze Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

  • Houses in the Mountain Shadows area of Colorado Springs, Colorado ignite due to the Waldo Canyon fire on Wednesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Jerilee Bennett)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    A helicopter tries to put out fire on the Waldo Canyon wildfire as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Gaylon Wampler)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    A plume of smoke is seen over Interstate 25 as the Waldo Canyon wildfire moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Gaylon Wampler)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    A helicopter tries to put out fire on the Waldo Canyon wildfire as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Gaylon Wampler)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    Fire from the Waldo Canyon wildfire as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Gaylon Wampler)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    Fire from the Waldo Canyon wildfire burns as it moved into subdivisions and destroyed homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Gaylon Wampler)

  • A plane flies through a rising plume of smoke from the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, Colo. on Monday, June 25, 2012. The fire, one of at least a half-dozen wildfires in Colorado as of Monday, has blackened 5.3 square miles and displaced about 6,000 people since it started Saturday. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • A helicopter battles the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 25, 2012. The fire, one of at least a half-dozen wildfires in Colorado as of Monday, has blackened 5.3 square miles and displaced about 6,000 people since it started Saturday. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire, Rich Brown

    Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown, right, speaks at a briefing on the Waldo Canyon wildfire in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. Authorities say it remains too dangerous for them to fully assess the damage from a destructive wildfire threatening Colorado's second-largest city. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Mitch Rowley, a firefighter with the the Colorado Springs Fire Department Task Force I unit, keeps an eye on the Waldo Canyon Fire from a northwestern neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Monday, June 25, 2012. The fire, one of at least a half-dozen wildfires in Colorado as of Monday, has blackened 5.3 square miles and displaced about 6,000 people since it started Saturday. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • People watch from Mesa Road as the Waldo Canyon Fire burns near Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 25, 2012. The fire, one of at least a half-dozen wildfires in Colorado as of Monday, has blackened 5.3 square miles and displaced about 6,000 people since it started Saturday. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • A helicopter and another aircraft battle the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 25, 2012. The fire, one of at least a half-dozen wildfires in Colorado as of Monday, has blackened 5.3 square miles and displaced about 6,000 people since it started Saturday. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • A helicopter battles the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 25, 2012. The fire, one of at least a half-dozen wildfires in Colorado as of Monday, has blackened 5.3 square miles and displaced about 6,000 people since it started Saturday. (AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    A firefighting helicopter flies over burned trees as it goes to refill its bucket while fighting the Waldo Canyon wildfire west of Manitou Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    The Waldo Canyon wildfire blazes through tree tops west of Manitou Springs, Colo., Monday, June 25, 2012. The Waldo Canyon fire, one of at least a half-dozen wildfires in Colorado on Monday, has blackened 5.3 square miles and displaced about 6,000 people since it started Saturday, June 23, but no homes have been destroyed. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    A plume of smoke rises above the Waldo Canyon wildfire west of Manitou Springs, Colo., on Monday afternoon, June 25, 2012. The fire, one of at least eight wildfires in Colorado on Monday, has blackened 5.3 square miles and displaced about 6,000 people since it started Saturday, June 23, but no homes have been destroyed. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Waldo Canyon Wildfire

    A plume of smoke rises above the Waldo Canyon fire west of Manitou Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 25, 2012. The fire, one of at least a half-dozen wildfires in Colorado on Monday, has blackened 5.3 square miles and displaced about 6,000 people since it started Saturday, June 23, but no homes have been destroyed. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)