Marshall Zelinger, Alan Gathright – 7 News
JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. – A Jefferson County judge has ruled against State Attorney General John Suthers, saying victims of the devastating Lower North Fork fire should receive $5 million more than the State Claims Board was willing to pay.
The March 2012 wildfire, which started as a prescribed burn by the State Forest Service, destroyed 22 homes and charred 4,100 acres. It killed three people: Sam Lucas, Linda Lucas and Ann Appel.
Fire victims have waited two years for the state of Colorado to pay them back for the fire that destroyed their community and forever changed their lives.
People say they feel victimized all over again by the legal battle with the state over their fire claims.
“We keep getting burned over and over and over again in a different way,” said Scott Appel, whose wife, Ann, died in the firestorm that destroyed their home and charred their property.
An independent panel of four retired judges spent two months reviewing victims’ claims and recommended the state pay about $16.4 million to 19 families.
However, earlier this month, the State Claims Board reduced that compensation to $11 million, a figure that doesn’t include non-economic losses like death and emotional distress. The board’s members are Attorney General Suthers, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and state Director of Personnel Kathy Nesbitt.
In one victim’s case, the board recommended reducing a $4.5 million payment to $3.1 million.
The board recommended cutting another victim’s compensation from $146,000 to $63,000.
But on Friday night, District Judge Dennis Hall ruled the State Claims Board was wrong and reinstated the $16.4 million recommended by the independent panel of retired judges. Hall also ordered the victims’ be paid for non-economic losses, which could include compensation loss of life and emotional distress.
For victims, the judge’s is ruling is a step toward resolution of the two-year legal struggle.
But residents such as Scott Appel have become used to unexpected reversals in this process.
“I had no idea how difficult and expensive the process would be,” Appel said.
In May 2013, Judge Hall “The Special Masters’ determinations of value will be final and binding on the participating parties.” That meant the four-judge panel’s ruling on how much victims’ are owed would be binding on the victims and the state.
But then the State Claims Board reduced the special masters’ compensation amounts.
“Presto change-o, the deal’s off once again,” Scott Appel said. “Where I come from, binding means binding.”
The victims went back to court asking Judge Hall honor the independent panel’s recommendations.
The attorney general objected, saying any court judgment would be limited to the state’s total $600,000 liability limit for all victims.
In a court document filed on April 15, the attorney general wrote, “the claims board, as a separate deliberative body, is not bound” by the independent panel.
In his Friday ruling, Judge Hall rejected that argument.
“The intent of the legislature was to permit trial courts to enter judgment against the state in amounts exceeding the tort cap,” Hall stated. “The attorney general’s objection… is not well taken.”
Fire victim Tom Scalan has had a belly full of the State Claims Board, which cut his compensation offer almost in half.
“The attorney general is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, he is not consistent,” Scanlan said.
“I am exhausted by the deceit and treachery that I’ve seen,” the weary fire victim added.Read More »
Two long years ago the State irresponsibly and callously lit a match in the forest in the driest March on record and left smoldering embers to reignite when predicted 80 mph winds spread the raging Lower North Fork Wildfire through a quiet, unprotected community near Conifer. Now the Attorney General is again ravaging the survivors’ hopes in court, asserting the State has no responsibility for righting the wrong they have admitted to. Their story has been a travesty of justice by the State led by the Attorney General and Governor for over 2 years.
May 2012 the Governor and Attorney General promised speedy restitution for the damages done, which included killing 3 people and destroying 23 homes and property. Then instead of implementing the law passed by the Legislature to provide speedy restitution, the Attorney General brought suit against the survivors only months later in July 2012, forcing them into the State’s ongoing lawsuit with the insurance companies. This required the victims to hire lawyers to protect their rights, further traumatizing them and increasing their crushing financial burdens. The Attorney General’s next ploy was to assert the State did not have the resources to evaluate the victims’ claims. He also went on record in the press blaming the survivors for delaying the process when it was his office that initiated the lawsuit against the victims.
This resulted in over a year of fighting the State in court to protect their rights. After months of legal delays a process of binding arbitration was agreed upon by all parties in court. The one ray of hope in this whole disaster was when the Judicial Arbiters Group, an organization of prestigious judges with vast experience in resolving claims including fire losses, volunteered to act as Special Masters for the court to value the victims’ claims.
The Governor and the Attorney General agreed the State to be bound by the Special Masters’ findings. The victims had to go even further and waive their rights to a trial by a jury of their peers.
Now that the Special Masters have completed their month’s long evaluation of the victim’s claims in a trial setting, the Attorney General has blatently rejected the claims in court.
When will the torment end for our neighbors? When will someone stand up to the Governor and Attorney General and say enough?! Has the State of Colorado lost all sense of fairness, responsibility and caring for its neighbors?
We only ask for what the Victims and the State agreed to in Binding Arbitration; that we are compensated what the JAG has awarded us so we can finally move on with our lives and put this sad chapter of Colorado history behind us.Read More »
The Lower North Fork Fire in Colorado, just west of Denver over a year ago, caused untold physical damage and killed 3 people. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and FEMA was slow to act on behalf of the victims and over a year later FEMA aid has been denied for the victims and the State of Colorado has not only denied aid to the victims, but remarkably have thrown the victims into court… Victims that have done nothing wrong.
March 26 2012 – A prescribed burn left unattended by the Colorado State Forest Service burns 4600 acres destroys 22 homes and kills 3 people
In the days that follow…
- The State requests FEMA funding to pay the State’s firefightings costs. These grants do not provide assistance to individual home or business owners and do not cover other infrastructure damage caused by the fire. The victims are never granted one penny in FEMA or State aid. Their only aid and support is from kind and caring neighbors, local charities and businesses.
- A few days after the fire victims meet with the Colorado Governor Hickenlooper after he tours the damage and ask him to do the right thing and approve aid for the victims. He tells them the agency that caused the tragedy is not under his jurisdiction.
- The head of the Colorado State Forest Service, that by neglect caused the fire, publicly apologizes for having caused it.
- There is an investigation into the cause of the fire headed by a sister agency in the neighboring State of Wyoming. They determine that proper procedures were not followed however, found no blame.
- Victims are told there will be no State aid and FEMA aid was denied because State aid has not been exhausted.
- The victims are forced to beg for aid in the press, each time reliving their painful tragedy over and over. Nothing happens for several months and the victims through the media continue to apply pressure on the Governor and Legislature to do something.
- 3 months later, and months of work while being homeless, the victims successfully get 2 bills passed. One that promises an investigation into the disaster by a State Commission and the other allowing “the possibility” of aid/claims through the State Claims Board. The Governor signs the bills with the victims as a backdrop promising quick aid with extensive positive media coverage. The public now believes that the State has finally stepped up and the victims are now getting help.
- Victims are instructed to file notices of claim with the State in order to get aid. Victims spend days/hours compiling their claims to conform to according to government bureaucracy guidelines.
- 1 month later the victims are shocked as they are dragged into court by the State Attorney General,and forced to join a lawsuit filed by insurance companies and utilities against their will; blatantly disregarding the intent of the bills for quick aid passed just a month before. Victims are now told the process will not be quick and will take years, if at all.
- Victims are now forced to hire lawyers to protect themselves against the State incurring great expense while trying to rebuild their lives.
- The victims testify at the six State Commission hearings over a period of 4 months. The State Commission that was chartered to investigate the fire claims it does not have the resources to do so and the victims are forced to conduct their own investigation using public records. They present their finding to the commission that clearly shows neglect on the part of the State. The commissioners never call any employees of the State agency to testify that admittedly caused the fire citing concerns for State liability. In the end… the commission… does nothing.
- 6-12 months after the fire none of the homes destroyed by the fire have been rebuilt and many never will. There is still no aid or process for claims as the State AG and his team of lawyers use legal maneuvering to delay in the court system.
- 1 year after the fire the media with the victims again question the State about aid and lack of accountability. The State AG responds by blaming the victims.
- A small group of victims are granted a private meeting with Governor Hickenlooper. He listens to their concerns and takes notes in a room full of lawyers, but says nothing.
- The Governor and State Legislators continue to watch the State AG and his lawyers legal shenanigans… and do nothing. FEMA has done nothing.
15 months after the disaster; There is still no State or Federal aid for the victims. The victims have endured countless interviews in the media and court appearances. They honestly never want to see a television camera again. They are weary of driving to the State Capitol. They are weary of being dragged into Court. Victims were required to create stacks of paperwork to try and get aid and are constantly being blind sided by legal maneuvering of the State AG.
This is wrong.
We are the victims of the Lower North Fork Fire.
We did nothing wrong.
Why are we treated as enemies of the State of Colorado?
Read More »
As you know, March 26th will be the one year mark of the Lower North Fork Fire. have been asked by so many wonderful people how we as the survivors of this horrific event would like to have this day addressed.
We are so thankful for the community we live in and for the out pouring of support you have shared. From basic needs, fund raising events, to a special recognition dinner, children-run lemonade stands, to writing news articles, showing up at court to support us and for the many prayers you have sent our way. We will never be able to thank you enough.
As everyone knows, we lost 3 amazing neighbors that day. It just doesn’t feel fitting to over shadow the grief this anniversary will hold for those families. Some have asked about a celebration, but we are not yet at a place where we feel a celebration is in order. There are still so many unanswered questions and unfulfilled promises from the State as we work at reclaiming our lives.This event was tragic and avoidable. Like any tragic event it takes time for survivors to heal and move on.
How we would like to approach this first anniversary is to ask all of you to hold us and our lost loved ones in your heart. Visit our website please, we will have posted a special “one year later update” and if you would like, you will be able to post a message there to all of us. We would love to hear from you.
However, we have at a rather late hour, been given the opportunity for a press conference at the State Capitol on Tue. the 26th at noon. We are meeting Cheri Gerou in the west foyer at 11:45 and would welcome any of you who could take the time to drive down there and be with us; our goal is to appeal to the Legislators, Governor and Attorney General for their support.
Thank you for your understanding. your kindness and your continued support.
The survivors of the Lower North Fork Fire
Roy Johnson has been a fire fighter for 20 years and and qualified as a wild land fire fighter since 2002. Roy grew up on Kuehster Road where his family called it home in 1946.
We are approaching the anniversary date of the Lower North Fork Fire. This fire occurred March 26th, 2012. 26 structures were lost and three people died as result of this fire. The victims of this fire in no way want to diminish the severity of the other tragedies that struck Colorado and the nation in 2012, but our fire has one aspect that the other tragedies do not. This fire was caused by employees of the state acting in an official capacity. To date the state has paid lip service to saying how sorry they are and what they are doing to try and prevent it from ever happening again, but they have put up road block after road block to prevent any compensation from going to the victims of the fire.
The assault on the victim’s claims for justice is led by Attorney General John Suthers. The legislature and Governor John Hickenlooper made a grand showing with the passage of two bills in May of 2012. These bills created the Lower North Fork Fire commission to investigate the fire and removed the $600,000 dollar statutory cap for the states liability.
The LNFF commission investigated everything but the cause of the fire and the states culpability due to negligence of its employees. The attorney general has actively stood in the way of victims receiving any compensation through the claims commission set up by the legislature. He has further asserted that the cap being raised from $600,000 does not mean the state has to compensate victims only that it can if the legislature so approves. The majority of victims mistakenly thought that when the caps were raised and the commission was set up that they would get a fair hearing in front of the claims board and be compensated for the taking of their property by the state.
Bill Finger an attorney representing many of the victims has summed up the States position as follows: “The AG on behalf of the State is trying to force property owners into taking very limited amounts when the actual injuries are well above 20 million dollars. The State doesn’t want to pay the cost of land remediation and devaluation of property values. It wants to make token payments. The claims board where you filed claims has to date refused to evaluate the individual claims and make a recommendation to the legislature, which was the intended process. This is government not doing its job and playing a game of delay and not honoring its commitment to the persons it harmed. John Suthers is on the claim board and so is the Executive Director of the Department of Personnel and Administration, the agency that is supposed to do claims adjustment and also the agency in which the claims board is housed.
They are all in bed with one another to deprive you of fairness and justice. They realize that the Court process is slow, and even though they have said $600,000 has been authorized for payment there has been no effort to pay this amount into any account, including an interest bearing account.”
The governor and legislature have passively stood by as nothing has moved forward.
The facts leading up to the fire paint a dismal picture of the failure of a state agency to fulfill its mandate to serve the best interest of the citizens of Colorado. The pertinent facts are:
1) The Colorado State Forest Service thought it was a good idea to burn masticated fuel in an experimental burn. Considerable evidence was available that suggested that fire in masticated fuels was difficult to extinguish and “overhaul” after a fire. The state saw fit to try the experiment anyway.
2) The Colorado State Forest Service didn’t wait for ideal conditions to perform this risky experiment but decided to do it in the middle of a drought in the driest March on record. A private land owner must have 3 inches of snow to do any agricultural burning in Jefferson County. There is nothing but south facing, heavily wood, and extremely steep terrain between where the prescribed burn took place and where the devastation took place on Kuehster Road. March 2012 being the driest March on record, there was essentially no snow on these mountain slopes.
3) The number of their own policies and recommendation by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group that were violated would take too long to outline in this forum but the key violation was that even if a fire was conducted in ideal circumstances (which this one was not) the forest service’s own documents require the fire to be monitored for four days. In the most dangerous condition related to wildfire and a fire being conducted in a fuel with unknown burning characteristics, the officials of the State of Colorado saw fit to send a trainee to monitor the fire unsupervised and on his recommendation leave the fire unattended for 44+ hours.
Given the states culpability in this disaster one would think that they would go out of their way to make it right to the victims. The exact opposite has happened. This is a non-partisan call to action. Suthers is republican and the legislature and governor are democrats. With the exception of Representative Cheri Gerou, ( who should challenge Gov. Hickenlooper for the Governorship) the politician of the state have been missing in action. The electorate of the state needs to remember this in the next election cycle. This could happen to you.
Roy JohnsonRead More »
Re-posted with Permission – http://northforkashes.blogspot.com/2012/10/balance.html
Balance. What is that?
As kids we worked and worked, skinned our knees and punished our resilient little bodies until that instant when we got balance. It was magical. It opened up a new world to us. The bicycle seemed to stand up on its own having granted us absolution through the self inflicted scrapes and bruises. We sailed effortlessly into new realms and had access to new sets of friends and experiences. You either had it or you didn’t. It was black and white. But it was the thing itself that we wanted and all that it provided.
Today, as adults, we speak of balance. We get that misty look in our eye and speak of achieving it in the same way we experienced it as children. But it is less of the “thing” that we desire. It is more of an avoidance of the pain of not having it that is the allure. The balance we seek as “grown ups” is more nebulous. It is all too obvious when it is absent, and more taken for granted and ignored when it is present. And, it is never black and white – you never get it and never have to worry about whether it is present or not. It required constant vigilance… at least that is true for me.
It has been 6 months or so since the State burned down our house. I don’t say that with a sneer or venom. It is simply fact, and one I don’t want people to forget. And in the “balance”, they have done very little to even the scales. So, we work and work at what amounts to another full time job trying to set our lives straight again. Recently, many things have gone well for us and we may actually have a place to live and call our own. It is in sight. But we are tapped out, our knees are skinned and we are bruised. If we relied on the illusive balance to achieve the things we have to this point, I am afraid we would not be nearly as far along as we are. Maybe to us balance is that position on the razors’ edge between sanity and a clean slice away from it. Maybe there is no such thing and it is some fantasy destination that is far less tangible than riding a bike.
For me, as I sit here writing this in Seattle on this project that has been the most challenging and stressful thing I have ever undertaken, I realize that if this did not push me out of “balance” there would be no growth. I suppose the edge of exhaustion is not good either, but who is to say. Do I rely on some nebulous destination called “balance” to tell me or do I just go for it and achieve what I can until I don’t want to any more. I am fairly certain I will never arrive and start sailing along effortlessly. I am even more sure that there is no such thing as “balance” in the way we use the word as adults. It is only some fantasy of arrival that we have created that can never really be achieved. We should create new language for what it is that we really want. Call it rest, or a time out, or being lazy or being highly motivated…. You name it. But balance as we use the word literally does not exist in reality.
Posted by David CottrellRead More »
“The South Fork of the South Platt River provides an essential water supply to Denver. It passes through pine covered foothills of the Pike National Forest in an area that is normally moderately dry (I believe about 12”-15” moisture a year). It is sheltered by the continental divide, miles to the west.
For years Jeanie and I searched for the property on which we would build our retirement home. The property we finally chose is situated in those foothills just north of the Strontia Springs Reservoir of the South Platte River, less than an hour from most of Denver.
Jeanie and I bought our property in 1995. We were attracted by its beauty and unspoiled solitude. There was a remarkably clear view of several thousand square miles of forests to the south and west. One could clearly see Mt. Evens, the heights of the Lost Creek Wilderness, Pikes Peak, Castle Rock and even DIA through the trees.
The home we built there was the consummation of our vision for retirement come true. We moved to a spectacular site, surrounded by breathtaking vistas, in the peacefulness of natural beauty from the horizons to our very feet. The shear beauty of the natural world was intimately at hand.
There were no visible scars from large forest fires when we bought the property. Devils Head with its fire watch tower lies 10 miles to the south of our property. It is centered in an area of unusually frequent lightning strikes. It is manned in the summer months for good reason. We quickly learned to watch storms moving across in the afternoon and to remember the location of strong lightning strikes. On numerous mornings we spotted the smoke from small single-tree fires and reported them along with our neighbors, often directly to the Pike National Forrest dispatcher in Pueblo. Without exception, over the years, these fires were quickly attended to and put out.
The Buffalo Creek fire was the first of a string of large, scar producing forest fires, all set by people. It was started by a neglected campfire in late 1996. It ran 10 miles in a few hours on a Friday and was contained the following day. It came within about 5 miles of our property. I watched fire fighting from the first small deck we had build on the top of our property. Jeanie and I decided right then to build our home from concrete and steel and make it as fire proof as possible. We equipped it with every possible fire safety feature, many more that were required by code.
Simultaneously, I began an unending program of wildfire mitigation on our property. I learned form my neighbors and the Colorado Forest Service. We cut ladder fuels, chipped and burned slash and worked to increase the crown spacing of the forest below our house. I joined the National Tree Farm and Colorado Forrest Ag Program. I started mitigation, and I never stopped.
The Hayman Fire was willfully started a few years later, some 35 miles to the south-south-west. Its scar lies above the South Fork of the South Platte River and it has exposed large areas to erosion and flooding. It burned to within about 7-8 miles of our property. Runoff from snow and summer thunderstorms after the fire increased siltation and is reported to have reduced capacity of the Strontia Springs Reservoir. Several years after the fire, my wife, Jeanie, and I happened to watch as a particularly severe storm caused flooding. We turned on our scanner and heard the automated flood warning radios and then a sheriff’s deputy report that West Creek was flooding with large debris. He called for backup and for closing the road (Highway 126). Subsequently, some twenty miles of the highway was washed out upstream from the reservoir.
To reduce the potential for forest fire flooding and siltation of the reservoir, the Pike National Forest chose select areas above the South Fork for thinning. To do so, it cut trees and piled the logs. Trailer trucks then hauled them away. Branches and slash were pushed into large piles and burned in mid-winter when there was substantial snow cover. Our house is roughly 10 miles to the north and we had a clear view of much of the area. Jeanie, and I also watched this work from our house through our telescope.
At about the same time that the Pike Forrest was pursuing its plan of wildfire abatement by thinning or “logging”, it seems the Denver water Board decided to thin some of its lands also.
The Denver Water Board owns below lands around Strontia Springs Reservoir, an essential part of Denver’s water supply. The reservoir lies about two miles south of our house and about 2000 feet lower, on the other side of Willow Gulch and Sheep Mountain. To limit the possibility of siltation to its water supply, it was decided to thin the forest. Of the methods available, the one chosen was to thin by mastication. I believe that was the first of a series of profoundly flawed decisions.
Years ago Jeanie and I first heard heavy machinery operating behind a hill. Then one day an unusual red machine appeared. It had tracks and a long arm with spinning teeth at the head. It was designed so that the cab platform remained level regardless of the steepness of the terrain. The operator would hit a tree in the middle, toppling the upper half. He would then lower the spinning head down the trunk causing pieces and shreds to fly in all directions. Then he would move to the top that was lying on the ground and shred it. It seems he shredded about a third to two thirds of the north slopes, leaving a much-thinned stand of trees. We watched all this through our telescope. At the time it seemed to us it seemed like a good idea. We gave no thought to the nature of the material left lying on the forest floor. But it seems that others did.
The fact is that the mastication did not decrease the fuel load of the forest. Dry climate in the subsequent years prevented significant rotting.
It did not decrease danger. Though the crown spacing was increased, I have since learned that the increased spacing is not likely to reduce the risk of a running crown fire. The unique fuels that were the source the Lower North Fork Fire were chopped and splintered branches and trunks resulting from mastication years before. So, those who created these fuels became believe an increasingly urgent need to remove the postential for danger. At that point, a number of courses were available.
The LNNF group’s investigation and conclusions regarding the fire is presented here separately. I have come to believe that the Lower North Fork Burn began as a poorly conceived effort for a controlled burn in order to correct for previous poor judgment. It quickly became a wildly running crown fire with speeds probably well in excess of 50 miles per hour and gas temperatures in the range of 2000 to 3000 degrees. I believe that the investigation of the LNFF will eventually show clearly that the many, many decisions involving concept, planning, decision to ignite, and subsequent efforts to carry out and then extinguish the fire were, one by one, were so egregiously flawed as to constitute unmatched negligence.
That fire was planned, it was started by and it was not contained. It was never controlled. ….by people. Those who were responsible …over time, at many levels. …little people, with spines too feeble to stand and take responsibility.
Then and now they are sheltered. They hide behind each other’s skirts to this day, hoping that time will erase their sins, that some paltry future offering may ease their guilt.
And when cornered they will probably look us straight in the eye, …and with all the specious rightness they can muster, they will heap lie upon lie.
Who are these people? They populate, …in fact, they are of our government. The very government that should be looked to for responsible conduct, to provide the standards, the model for responsible action for us, all its citizens.
But now good, self sufficient, independent people must argue and defend themselves. The burden has been place upon US. We must devote our time and our resource (what little you have left us) toward proving our losses. Yes, you steal our time, which like lives, when taken, can never be replaced.
This did not need to happen. It could have been avoided
Take a single case case: Our close friend lost his home. He lost his wife, the light of his family, his business partner. He lost his business, and all of his business records. He lost his inventory. He is faced with the very real threat of imminent bankruptcy. He is forced to commit what little resources he has left to an attempt to regain what he can. He survives with the support of two admirable sons, a group of close fiends and the charity of an unknown number of truly generous people, charity which he honestly needs yet for which he is deeply embarrassed to receive.
Now think again about this for a moment. That fire was not due to natural causes. It was not due to an accident. It was not just set by people.
IT WAS SET BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF OUR GOVERNMENT.
Friends were killed. Livelihoods were shattered. Property was destroyed.
And it was avoidable. It need NOT have happened.”Read More »
The wind was relentless as I took a break from work in my home office to drive “down the hill” to Littleton and have some Chinese food for lunch around 1:00. On the way back home I noticed smoke in the distance high in the foothills that appeared to be was close to where I lived, but it is hard to tell exactly from down below.
As I drove up Deer Creek Canyon I caught glimpses the smoke plume growing higher, each time hoping it was not close to where I lived. No such luck. As I turned up High Grade Road it was clear that the smoke was in the vicinity of my home. Anxiously I turned up S. Kuehster Road and drove directly to the Lamb School House where I could see it was the controlled burn my neighbors and I had watched with great concern the past days. I remembered getting a call from a neighbor the day the burn was started by the Colorado State Forest Service. She was concerned that she could see a large smoke plume from Denver where she worked and was concerned about her house. There was no notification of the burn for those of us on S. Kuehster Road. One neighbor did call and was instead told about the controlled burn taking place the same day in Ken Caryl, but not even an acknowledgement of the Lower North Fork Burn, as we now know it.
I was worried because the wind was howling at that time and it was hard to imagine that this was a good thing, but I had no idea the horror that lay ahead for me and my neighbors.
When I returned home I turned on the Fire Scanner. I then called two of my neighbors to compare notes on what they were hearing and seeing since I did not have a direct view of the fire. What we heard on the scanner could best be described as chaos. We quickly decided we better start packing just in case the worst happened.
My wife, Mary Ann, had been visiting her family in Denver and was on her way home. I was able to reach her and told her to get home quickly because there was a fire. This was around 3:30. I remembered my insurance agent telling me that I should inventory the house with video in case of a catastrophe; of course we always put that off. I quickly ran through the house and videoed every room in 5 minutes. I grabbed the dog cages and was debating which car to take. I believed there was still plenty of time.
I started packing a bag; getting out my large suitcase I use for business travel. I remember thinking I should take comfy clothes and threw a sweatshirt into the suitcase. For no good reason I walked out to the upper deck to get some air and saw the forest on fire just below me and the sky turning black powered by gale force winds. I quickly closed the suitcase with just a sweatshirt in it as my wife walked in house.
I told her we need to go NOW! A couple of neighbors called as we flew around the house in what can best be described as a panic. I told them to get out of here and we were leaving. This was at 5:15.
She scurried about trying to gather up all of the animals, 2 dogs, 2 cats and a bird. I had already loaded my PC’s, personal and business records. That was all we had time to gather. We loaded all of the animals into her car with no regard to trying to get them into cages. She later told me she almost wrecked the car several times as the animals would crawl under her legs as she drove.
We sped down Kuehster Road to find many of our neighbors and emergency vehicles staged at the bottom of the road. It did not seem safe to linger, this thing was horrendous and was growing fast, so we traveled down High Grade Road.
It was infuriating to see bicyclist leisurely riding up the hill as if nothing was going on, getting in the way of everyone trying to flee or get home to save life and limb.
We checked into a hotel just at the bottom of Deer Creek. We hustled the animals and our suitcase containing one sweatshirt into the room. I have a live weather station that broadcasts from the house with live webcams and we quickly logged on to see what the house was like if it was still online. It was and we could barely make out the house from the thick smoke, sometimes blocking the view entirely. We continued to watch wondering if we would soon see it burst into flames. Then, we were disconnected. We knew either the power went out or the house was gone.
We tried to eat a bite at Chilis, but could not. So we went to the pet store to get food for the animals and spent the rest of the night laying in bed with vivid visions of fire raging through the house. We later learned most of our neighbors had the same dream and many still do to this day.
Early the next morning a neighbor knocked on our hotel room door. We got online to check the news channels. We gathered as we watched live raw video from a news chopper . I was surprised to see that one of my neighbors house was still standing and quickly sent him a message with the good news. The video then zoomed in on the house next door to my neighbor watching the video with me. He said he had been on the phone with them as they were packing. He then said stop the video. Looking at it he said ” they only have 3 cars and they are all still there in the burned out structure”. He was referring to Sam and Linda Lucas who perished in the fire. We were unfortunately the first to know.
March 27, 2012… My new reality begins.
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Reprinted with Permission from – http://kristenmoeller.com/2012/04/fire-on-the-mountain/
Posted on: April 5th, 2012 by Kristen Moeller
We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us – Winston Churchill
On the morning of Monday March 26th, I enjoyed the early morning quiet as I began what was to be a very busy day. I was squeezing in 12 separate conference calls so I could take the rest of the week off for my trip to California, first to speak at Inside Edge and then to join my colleagues at Rejuvenate Training to begin my spring marketing launch for my business.
How it looked at 2pm
As usual, I sat drinking my coffee on my favorite leopard chaise by the window, one 90-pound dog curled up at my side, the other at my feet. I gazed at the view, which even after 9 years, I never took for, granted. Ahhhhh. Life in our dream house, our little paradise of a retreat on the side of a mountain. How lucky we were.
I remember the first time we found it. The ad in the paper sounded to good to be true: 37 acres, 2 bedroom, 1 bath, far ranging views – and an exciting bonus – completely “off-the-grid”, meaning solar power only. After getting used to mountain living 4 years before, we craved even more adventure. As we approached the property down the mile-long, jeep-trail of a road, through groves of shimmering Aspen trees, the view began to emerge. Each step closer we took, we held our breath a little more, fully expecting to be disappointed at the end. We had so many near misses, seen homes that didn’t quite do it – that sounded good on paper yet never felt like our place. As we rounded the last corner, we glanced at each other as the sweetest profile of a house I had ever seen greeted us. Set against towering pines and perched on the side of the hill, this paradise looked out over a vast expanse of mountains ranges including Pikes Peak sixty miles to the south.
We found our forever home.
Every time I pulled in my driveway, I would take a moment to admire that sweet profile of our magical home and breathe a sigh of relief.
At 11:20am, I emailed my house sitter with directions and got ready for my next call. Sometime later, I noticed a smoke cloud over the next ridge. The Thursday before, I had seen a similar cloud and, as all mountain residents are trained to do, I searched on-line for information. Relieved to see it was a “controlled burn”, my husband and I went on a hike with our dogs before I hosted my radio show. During the intro of the show, I talked about the “adventure” of living in Colorado and the concern that most mountain residents felt during this particularly dry spring.
So this day, I searched again. My first indication that something was not right came from a post on our community forum called “PineCam”.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:15 pm Post subject: lower north fork fire
Elk Creek and North Fork Fire departments responding to a reported 1 acre fire about 6 miles down Foxton. This may be a burn over from a controlled burn in that area several days ago.
This was new – and somewhat alarming. Having lived in the mountains since 1999, I had seen other fires but fortunately had never been very close. Prior to moving to this home, the dramatic and devastating fires at Buffalo Creek, Hi-Meadow and Hayman had left their still visible scars on our vistas.
Today, the wind was whipping. At one point, large branches blew against my door. I flinched, and my dogs growled. Not a good day for a fire.
To keep informed, I checked PineCam again after my next conference call ended:
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:28 pm Post subject: Update is fire is up to about 5 acres at this point. Requesting additional resources.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:42 pm Post subject: Elk creek will be staging at the entrance to Reynolds Park, additional units being requested.
Still continuing with my day, I emailed my clients about upcoming writing days.
Checking again, my concern begins to grow. I repeatedly try to reach my husband who was on a business trip in Seattle.
At 3:20, I begin communicating with an informed poster on PineCam, Dave Cochran (to whom I am forever grateful!) who seems to have up-to-date info.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:44 pm Post subject: Fire has grown to 10 to 15 acres per fire crews. Foxton Rd. closed at 285. Also Platte River Rd. closed at Buffalo Creek (126) to Confluence.
My friend Jolene arrives to help me prepare for my trip. She thinks we should start packing boxes in case of evacuation. I don’t want to mess up my house, so instead we start making calls and trying to find out information.
At 3:53, I ask the Dave on PineCam if he can speak with me on the phone. Inquiring what I should be watching for, he said that the white smoke cloud indicated the fire was still on the ground, if it turned black or brown that meant it had moved to the trees.
At 4:21, I text my friend Shawn and ask him to come help me cut down trees, he says he is on his way.
At 4:28, I began to email Dave some photos from my vantage point to get his opinion.
At 4:31, I post a picture on Facebook. Subject: Fire way too close to my house. Prayers please.
At 4:43, I send a new picture to Dave. The subject “Hit trees”. The cloud has exploded, turning a frightening brown. I see it in the middle of a message I am leaving for David’s colleague in Seattle. “Oh, fuck” is what I say and hang up.
My friend Greg arrives and begins loading my car. Somewhere in this period, David calls and I completely break down, unable to speak and hand the phone to Greg. David gives instructions to bring a few of his things.
I am now walking room-to-room staring blankly and wondering what to take. My eyes rest on an object for a moment and I make a split second decision to take it or leave it. Feeling somewhat out of body, yet not really believing I wouldn’t see my things again, I throw objects into bags. I grab my pillow, favorite blankets, a few beloved articles of clothing, my wedding album, and some jewelry.
Joleen runs to the shed to get the cat carrier and then begins to throw more pictures in a bag. I put the dogs in the car, relieved to have them ready. I keep going back in the house, thinking of “one more thing…” At one point, I grab my computer monitor but keep smashing into things as I attempt to carry it out. I drop it, thinking it’s a $300 piece of equipment – not that important. I go out to the car, and then come back for my slippers. I rack my brain for what else I should be taking. I run back in again for dog food and bowls.
Then Sean arrives and we know it’s time to go. Not because of any official warnings, but because we see flames below my house and an enormous billowing cloud of smoke which seems to block the road out.
I close the door and take what I didn’t realize would be my last look at my dream house.
The way out…
I don’t see the below posts until later:
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:00 pm Post subject: Mandatory evacuation of Kuester Rd to Conifer High School.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:04 pm Post subject: fire size is now over 100 acres, is Crowning
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:04 pm Post subject: A pic from a fellow Pinecammer prior to evac, towards the end of Kuehster Rd. (My pic I sent)
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:35 pm Post subject: Estimated evac for Pleasant Park/Kuester area is 500 homes per feedback from team.
I text David at 5:52pm to let him know I am at Staples parking lot. We recon with friends to make a plan. I don’t see the rest of these posts until I am at Jessica’s.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:49 pm Post subject: Per Elk Creek Fire, a Structure Protection Task Force is being implemented.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:55 pm Post subject: West Metro Fire is adding resources to this incident.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:10 pm Post subject: All fire resources are being sent to InterCanyon Fire Station 3. Also fire reporting fire has jumped Kuester Rd.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:38 pm Post subject: JCSO unit reporting from end of Kuester Rd that here has been burn out in that area.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:34 pm Post subject: Fire crested ridge east of Reynolds park and is running WNW
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:49 pm Post subject: Pleasant Park Rd. traffic is being restricted per JCSO. Avoid travel along this road.
Now safely at Jessica’s having handed off one dog to my friend Jessie and the cat to Greg and keeping my puppy Tigger with me, I begin following the updates.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 8:51 pm Post subject: Over 900 homes reported as evac per Denver Post. InterCanyon Fire reported 200 plus acres a couple hours ago, likely much larger now.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 9:14 pm Post subject: UPDATE: The Lower NorthFork Fire is now over 3,000 acres with more than 900 homes evacuated. according to CBS4 News.
While I slept, this was happening.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 9:19 pm Post subject: As of 9:00 this evening all major news outlets are reporting 900 evacuations for the Lower North Fork Fire.
I start emailing concerned friends and responding to posts on Facebook checking on my whereabouts. I let my mom and dad know I am safe. I realize I have received a text at 5:10pm with an evacuation warning. I never received a reverse 911 call. My sleep is sporadic – all night long I think of my home and those of my neighbors and pray for everyones safety.
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