Tag Archives: Colorado State Forest Service

Lower North Fork fire victims could have long wait for compensation

Lower North Fork fire victims could have long wait for compensation

By Tim Hoover
The Denver Post

http://tinyurl.com/9rngxqx

Victims of the Lower North Fork Wildfire , which killed three people and burned thousands of acres when high winds spread embers from a state controlled burn, could have a long wait before they get any special compensation from the state.

“It’s not forthcoming anytime soon,” Deputy Attorney General David Blake told members of the Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission Monday.

The five-member commission was created to examine the circumstances around the March fire, which destroyed 23 homes and caused $11 million in damage. Because the blaze sparked from a prescribed burn, lawmakers passed legislation allowing victims of fires caused by prescribed burns to exceed the normal governmental liability cap of $600,000 per instance.

But before that can ever happen, Blake said, victims must file claims against the state, and all lawsuits under the existing liability cap have to run their course.

“As everybody knows, litigation doesn’t wrap up quickly,” he said.

Victims have until Sept. 22 to file claims, Blake said.

“If they (claims) are not filed, that person will not be able to preserve their rights, and they will be outside of the process forever,” Blake said.

The commission also may make “compensatory recommendations” after hearing from victims of the fire, who were expected to testify in Conifer on Monday night.

“Realistically, we’re talking about many months, if not over years” before victims see special compensation from the state, said commission chairwoman state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango .

Mike Babler, fire programs manager for the Colorado chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Babler, who has worked on forest health since the 1960s, said wildfires are becoming more frequent, larger and more intense.

“When I first started in the fire world, a 100-acre fire was considered really large,” Babler said, adding that prior to the 140,000 acre Hayman Fire in 2002, the biggest fire in Colorado was 14,000 acres.

Babler said prescribed burns, which the state put an indefinite ban on after the Lower North Fork Fire, are still critically important for fire management. But he listed a variety of other strategies, including defensive techniques like cleaning up pine needles and other fuels around homes.

Another major factor has been the collapse of the timber industry, Babler said. With a depressed construction industry and foreign competition, mills have been shuttered, leaving forests thicker with fuel.

He also pointed to the growth of those living in the “urban wilderness interface,” where development creeps into forests. Two million people in Colorado now live in these areas, and studies say that could double in 20 years, he said.

In California on Monday, more than 825,000 rural residents received bills from the state of up to $150 for fire protection costs. The controversial new fees are expected to raise $84 million to help balance the state budget.

Sharon Scanlan, whose home and 35-acre wooded property were destroyed, said she hoped the commission’s work would answer basic questions.

“Why was the fire started anyway?” Scanlan asked.

State Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, a member of the commission, said some people are likely to want the commission to find blame.

“I think we need to work on preparing people who do choose to live in high wildfire areas to deal with that,” Levy said, “and recognize the risk to loss of life and property is very high and that is something they are knowingly taking on and the state cannot protect them.”

Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, whose district was hit hard by the fire, bristled at those comments.

“I think in America, we’re free to live where we want to live,” Gerou said. “If she’s saying that these individuals didn’t recognize the risk that they were facing, I hope that she’ll learn a little more about these people during this process. This commission isn’t about whether it’s safe to live in the forest or not.”

Tim Hoover: 303-954-1626,thoover@denverpost.comortwitter.com/timhoover




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Lower North Fork Fire victims clean up from fire started by state workers

Lower North Fork Fire victims clean up from fire started by state workers

http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/lower-north-fork-fire-victims-clean-up-from-fire-started-by-state-workers

  • By: Marshall Zelinger – Denver 7 News

Residents ask: Why no state help?

CONIFER, Colo. – Six months have passed since the Lower North Fork fire, but plenty of evidence remains.

Properties are covered in trees that resemble matchsticks.

On Sunday, survivors of the fire spent the day clearing dead trees from the property of Sam and Linda Lucas, two of the three who died in the fire.

The fire also killed Ann Appel, whose husband, Scott, helped in Sunday’s cleanup.
“This is a dirty job,” said survivor Tom Scanlan.
Scanlan’s mouth and cheeks were blackened as though he painted it in the process of becoming a clown.

“Sweat kind of gets wiped and, you know, we aren’t out here for a beauty contest,” said Scanlan.

Many of the residents want to know why they’re out there at all.

“I guess what we’re looking for is just somebody to step up and do what’s right and help us out while we’re helping ourselves,” said Scanlan.

“Who should be doing this cleanup?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

“I think it should be the (Colorado State) Forest Service,” said Scanlan.

“It should have already been done by the State Forest Service,” said survivor Andy Hoover. “They started the damn fire and it’s their responsibility. It’s their obligation to clean up after themselves.”

7NEWS contacted the Colorado State Forest Service. The deputy forester told 7NEWS because of pending lawsuits, no one could comment.

7NEWS was the first to report in April that the lawsuits are not from victims, but rather insurance companies and a power company, seeking reimbursement for costs incurred as a result of the fire.
“What I think we’d all like answered is, ‘Why hasn’t the state stepped up to their responsibility?'” said Scanlan. “All (the state has) offered us is advice and networking.”
“We’re trying, from the Office of Emergency Management, to secure the resources and the funding directly to Jefferson County, so that they can provide the assistance to the families,” said Micki Trost, the spokeswoman for the Office of Emergency Management. “We provide the funding and resources to Jefferson County who then supports directly the citizens that are affected.”

Lower North Fork residents tell 7NEWS that they don’t want resources they can utilize, they want the state to cleanup what it admitted to being responsible for.

Trost told 7NEWS that on Sunday, $300,000 became available from the Department of Natural Resources to Colorado State University for Lower North Fork reforestation help. She did not know if that also meant help with clearing the dead trees.

“We made a big dent in it today. It’ll take a whole lot more work, however, to make this look like something you could live in,” said Scanlan.




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Survivors of the Lower North Fork Fire Being Shunned by the State- Part 3

Survivors of the Lower North Fork Fire Being Shunned by the State- Part 3

Linda Kirkpatrick | 10 September 2012 Life In Evergreen as seen by Linda Kirkpatrick – http://justaroundhere.com/life-in-evergreen/1907-survivors-of-the-lower-north-fork-fire-part-3-of-a-series.html

March 26th was the first day of Spring Break. Sara Shirley and her two children had packed some things in anticipation of a getaway to a cabin along the Big Thompson River at Estes Park when the children returned from visiting their dad.

About 2:30 that afternoon Sara saw smoke and called 911 and was assured “crews were on the way — don’t worry about it.” She and her dad began driving around to see if they could locate where the smoke was coming from, determining it was two ridges away from their home near Kuehster Road. They stopped to warn a neighbor before returning home.

(Photo above before the fire shows the main house and the apartment in the structure to the right where Sara lived)

A prescribed burn on Denver Water Board property – conducted by the Colorado Forest Service the week before and left unchecked for 44 hours – had been whipped up by hurricane-force winds that Monday.

She was a bit impatient with her parents who seemed too calm about it all. She found herself experiencing a panic attack, walking around her apartment and looking at things, thinking “I can’t take all these things with me — I just hope I’ll see them again.” She packed more things into the car, urging her parents to do the same, and repositioned the cars to get out when everyone was ready.

A volunteer with the InterCanyon Fire Department had driven down their driveway warning the family to get out immediately, Sara recalled. Everything moved quickly at that point. “For a long time [after the fire], I was convinced he was not real – that he was an angel who appeared….”

They managed to rescue their three dogs and one of their two cats. Their second cat would perish in the fire along with their 23 finches.

“The whole thing was surreal,” she said recently. It was not until the next day that Sara and her parents would learn from TV news coverage that their homes had burned. A fleeting aerial view from video shot from a helicopter allowed them to spot their driveway with no buildings left where they’d once stood. It would be more than a week before homeowners were escorted back to their homesites.

To deal with their shock and disbelief, the three generations retreated to Estes Park for four days and four nights.

Her 12-year-old daughter recalls getting the news through her dad, crying initially but then being comforted by the fact that everyone got out. Her dad had helped her focus on the good aspects, and they talked about all sticking together. The first day back to school crowds were swarming her in every class. “It made me feel like people really cared and were there to comfort me,” she recalled.

There was a tremendous outpouring of support from the community, Sara said. “It was breathtaking.” Six months after the event, she still teared up with emotion telling the story of how the community rallied to support them and wanting me to convey her tremendous feeling of gratitude.

When Sara and her family were freezing, Mountain Resource Center (MRC) provided them with hats, coats, gloves and blankets for their beds. MRC sought out in-kind donations to furnish a temporary home and provided clothing, household items and “random stuff.” “Everything in our home (except for beds) was donated by friends and people we didn’t know,” she said with an expression of appreciation. “The outpouring was amazing. People we don’t know have been the most generous.”

Her two children were the only ones in public schools whose homes were lost in the fire. Area schools conducted fundraisers with West Jeff Elementary and West Jeff Middle Schools raising about $1,600 between them. Parmalee Elementary in Indian Hills raised about $3,000. Students there wrote letters expressing their concern and support and prepared a huge Easter basket made from a laundry tub, Sara recounted. Each of the students signed their names on the tub and filled it with toys for the children.

“Both the school therapists were really amazing,” Sara says with enthusiasm. She goes on to explain that her 10-year-old son has expressed a lot of frustration since the fire, attributing much of it to the fire. He says it was his dream to live in that spot, on that mountain and tells his mom he is expecting a Christmas miracle as if Santa is going to make their house reappear in time for Christmas. “What am I supposed to do with that?!” she says in anguish.

(Drawing right done by Sara’s son, a third-grader)

“There’s too much going on to feel the grief part,” she says, explaining that she tends to push her emotions aside. If I desperately need to do something [to escape thinking about the fire], I do something artistic. It makes me feel better.”

As a divorced mom with two kids, Sara had moved back home to be able to attend college two and a half years earlier. As a student at Red Rocks Community College, she had begun her studies in pursuit of a degree as an art teacher/elementary school teacher. The disruption of the fire caused her to drop out of classes, putting her into a category of “unsatisfactory achievement” and triggering the need to repay the $500 Pell grant because she failed to complete the semester. It now interferes with her ability to qualify for future financial assistance.

“I haven’t been able to work for six months,” she says, explaining that her parents have been “amazing” in making sure they have whatever they need. “We’re a very close family.” The extended family is renting a home in Pine that’s up for sale and is looking for a four-bedroom home with a yard for the dogs to settle into while they make decisions about rebuilding. Sara and her family hope to stay in the area. “I’ve been trying to keep things steady for the kids, not wanting to uproot them now.”

“There’s not a place we can call home,” she said, fighting off tears. “It doesn’t seem like we’re getting to an end. I don’t feel settled.”

She says her parents are more stressed than she’s ever seen them. Her mom works for Verizon, and her dad’s retired. They all keep busy dealing with the aftermath. If it’s not meeting with contractors about clearing debris, it’s coming up with lists of belongings, estimated dates of purchase and purchase prices for insurance purposes. After all that, “everything is then depreciated – generally about 50 percent,” she says in reference to filing an insurance claim. “It’s hard to remember everything you owned.”

She and her parents attend meetings with legislators and meetings with other victims of the fire. “It’s hard because every time I go to a meeting, it brings me back to the fire – it’s gut-wrenching,” she says. “Our hearts go out to those who lost family members – it feels like we didn’t lose much compared to them.”

Three neighbors perished in the fire, and 23 homes were destroyed.

Many neighbors who didn’t lose their homes experienced significant smoke damage and had to move out for a month or more.

Under the terms of their insurance policy with Farmers, they were given a check for the full extent of the dwellings as well as $5,000 for replacing clothing, toiletries, and personal items. “That will be deducted from our allowance for personal property,” Sara explains.

They consider themselves luckier than some but have begun to feel like “people are out to get you” and that “the vultures are circling” as they deal with contractors and those who make bids to clear their land. “Others are looking out for their own interests,” she says.

In many ways, times are tougher now than at first, she continues, explaining that the attention that immediately followed the fire has waned. “The support phase seems to have passed, but the victims are still dealing with it.”

With all the meetings – with other displaced homeowners and with legislators – she highly doubts that anything will come of it, referring to any compensation from the state for help with clearing their properties, reforesting and compensating the victims for the pain, anguish and inconvenience that’s not covered by an insurance policy. According to what the Attorney General said, “As far as he’s concerned, the cap [of $600,000 per occurrence] hasn’t been lifted. Insurance companies and IREA are also hoping for a piece of the same pie.

Reaction from the State

Colorado Representative Cheri Gerou would agree with her. “They’ve basically been shunned by the State,” she says with disappointment, confessing that she loses a lot of sleep thinking about it. “The State really doesn’t want to admit guilt.”

Gerou, who co-sponsored House Bill 1352 intended to be the victim’s voice, says, although investigation was a criterion of the bill, the commission will not investigate because they feel that would take money, which has not been allocated.

There is no money. None to investigate. None to reforest. None to compensate.

Assistance was available from FEMA and the State for the larger Waldo Canyon and High Park fires but not for the Lower North Fork fire. “Everyone is assuming that the Lower North Fork fire victims are getting federal money when they’ve gotten nothing,” Gerou points out.

“Nobody’s talking about it,” Gerou continues, “and that’s to the benefit of the State.”

In reference to the homeowners, Gerou says, “All they’d really like is a little bit of honesty. They’re losing faith in their state government.”

“I guess I’m naive,” she admits. “I thought just-ness would be done, but it is not being done.”

Click here to email Gov. Hickenlooper via his Chief of Staff. Or send your letters to:

You might also email legislators serving on the Commission:

Senator Ellen Roberts
Representative Cheri Gerou
Senator Jeanne Nicholson
Representative Claire Levy
James Davis, Director, Colorado Dept. of Public Safety
Bo Pogue, Legislative Council Staff




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After the Fire, Who’s Helping Whom? Part 2

After the Fire, Who’s Helping Whom? Part 2

Linda Kirkpatrick | 10 September 2012 – http://justaroundhere.com/life-in-evergreen/1892-after-the-fire-whos-helping-whom.html

There’s hardly a soul who wouldn’t agree it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to lose everything you own.  No house to go back to.  No favorite things you’ve accumulated from special trips or family treasures you’ve inherited.  No junk drawers you always meant to clean out someday.  “Gone up in smoke” has taken on real meaning to families who lost their homes in the Lower North Fork Fire that occurred in late March.

On the fifth day after a “controlled burn” by the Colorado State Forest Service, extremely high velocity winds whipped up embers and carried them great distances.

By 5:02 pm on March 26th, Reverse 911 calls were going out – but not necessarily to those living in the endangered area.  And by sometime between 5:15 and 6 pm, 23 homes had been destroyed and 3 people were dead.

Some homeowners never did get a call to evacuate.  Those calling 911 earlier – including the 3 who perished – had been assured it was a “prescribed burn,” and some were reportedly chastised for calling more than once.  “No one was called back to correct the error and warned to get out,” Sharon points out.

Sharon’s evacuation process

With a panoramic view of the Continental Divide, Sharon Scanlan had watched with concern from her windows. She had suspected the fire danger but believed firefighters would arrive to defend her home and those of her neighbors along Kuehster Road, east of Conifer.  Being familiar with what a homeowner should do to help those fighting a fire, she’d already moved furniture away from windows, raised the blinds, filled the tubs with water, and turned off the propane at the tank, hooked up three hoses to outside spigots and left a note on the door for the firefighters.

Embers ignited like a fireworks display gone awry, and were fanned by extraordinary winds of 70 mph or more, traveling two miles  in just 12 minutes over “incredibly rugged canyons and gorges on increasingly steeper terrain.”

Kuehster Road – two miles away, as the crow flies, from the burn point where the evacuation notice was triggered – was the first road for the firefighters to gain access to attempt subduing the fire.

A friend, who was a firefighter, had phoned Sharon to say the flames had gotten out of control and that she should get out as quickly as possible.  She was one who did not get an official call to evacuate.

“At the last minute when I saw enormous plumes of brown smoke – trees burning – from one window, I  knew I had to get out right then,” she said recently.

She managed to gather up her two parrots, a canary, and a dog before hitching the trailer to the truck and then loading her two horses aboard.   “I remember my knees shaking,” she recalled.  “The horses were in absolute panic, seeing flames and hearing the roar of this ‘freight train’ of fire.”  When she’d traveled just a half-mile from her driveway, she realized that her house had likely burned.

It was that quick.

She bitterly chuckled over her illusion of the home being defended and the note left on the door for the firefighters…. it was a foregone conclusion that there was no fighting this fire.

The day we met at her homesite, one could see portions of the integrated concrete form construction, most of which had crumbled in the intense heat.  The structure – thought to be fire resistant – was incinerated, leaving but a handful of identifiable items when later straining the ashes through a mesh screen.  Sharon continues to sift through remnants of the high-temperature burn that incinerated her belongings, hoping to find something that belonged to her mother, who died just a month before the fire.  Although unlikely, she holds out some hope.

The fire consumed her two barns – one of them metal.  In the intense heat, the metal buckled, and combustion ignited the contents within.  The 50-foot I-beam in their fire-resistent home buckled too.

She points to the dead trees, now blackened sticks silhouetted against Colorado’s bright blue sky, and says that her husband looks like he’s just come out of a coal mine after working at cutting the burned trees.  “He comes out black from head to toe,” she says.

Homeowners have been advised that those trees still standing will be more susceptible to beetle kill and that noxious weeds will move in in abundance after a fire.

Sharon’s husband, Tom, was in Los Angeles on business the day of the horrific event and knew nothing about the fire in his neighborhood until he retrieved messages from Sharon later that evening.

Working with the State

Tom Scanlan, an aerospace consultant, has been spearheading the efforts with other homeowners in communicating with the Commission set up by the governor.  It’s become the primary function of his life, it seems.

Armed with copies of every pertinent public record he and a small team of neighbors have been able to acquire, Tom has put together timelines and copies of documents that point to the chain of events that permitted the fire to occur.

Although the Commission is charged with investigating the disaster and making recommendations to the legislature in January on how to prevent such an occurrence ever happening under similar circumstances, “they have not called a single witness from the Colorado State Forest Service who started the burn, or the Denver Water Board who contracted for the burn,” Sharon says.

In talking with victims of the fire, there seems to be a growing feeling that the state hopes they (the victims) will get tired of the process, give up the fight and go away.

The victims are taking days out of their weeks to help the State, it seems.  ButWHO’S HELPING THEM? I asked….

Sharon carefully chose her words in response:  “The Commission has failed to fulfill their charter, which was to investigate the cause of the Lower North Fork Fire and the impact on the victims; instead, focusing on the forest health and general wildfire issues, the requirements of the bill have been ignored.”

Commission member Sen. Jeanne Nicholson explained in an email, “The commission is charged with determining what the state needs to do to try to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.  That process is on a fast track to prepare us for the 2013 legislative session.  We need to prepare bills to be considered during the session that we hope will prevent a similar tragedy.

“On a parallel track is the process to provide compensation for the victims if and when the court determines that their losses were caused because the State was negligent in the way the prescribed burn was managed.

“A separate piece of legislation provides for this process and would not have been available if the legislature had not passed the legislation in the 2012 session.  Prior to 2012 the state statute that covers claims against the State when the State is negligent did not include prescribed burns, now it does and the 2012 legislation made claims associated with prescribed burns retroactive to give the victims of the Lower North Fork Fire an opportunity to file claims.

“The legislative branch has done its work to respond to the tragedy by giving the victims a judicial process for applying for compensation and now it is up to the Judicial branch to do its work which will begin after September 22 when all the claims have been filed.

“…as you know the American system of justice always assumes innocence until proven guilty and the Judicial Branch of our form of government’s is required to use its own process to prove guilt and if proven determine the punishment.”

The State of Colorado accepted responsibility for the fire on June 3rd. Despite wording in HB 1361, which provided the victims with a timely claims board process, “The Attorney General is forcing the victims into a now lengthy, long-drawn-out litigation with the insurance companies and IREA,” Sharon says.  A trial must take place before any settlements can be made.

Like paying for a dead horse, homeowners must continue to make their monthly mortgage payments on homes that no longer exist.  Insurance companies are providing displaced homeowners with rent money to live elsewhere while months pass.  Although it does not seem to have been Gov. Hickenlooper’s intent, nor that of the legislature, to make life difficult for fire victims, homeowners have been told by the Commission it may take years to see any resolution.

Meanwhile, the only real assistance fire victims are getting is from the Mountain Resource Center, through which private donations have been funneled.  Most of the money is being used for counseling as victims struggle with reality.

What we can do

It’s time we, as friends and neighbors, help put pressure on the State of Colorado, starting with Governor Hickenlooper.  Remind him that we have no intentions of forgetting the tragedy because it could well have been us.  Urge him to appropriately use every resource the State has to take care of those who are victims of the Lower North Fork Fire as expeditiously as possible and to give them encouraging signs along the way that they are not being forgotten.   Click here to email Gov. Hickenlooper via his Chief of Staff. Or send your letters to:

 

 

 

 

 

You might also email legislators serving on the Commission:

Senator Ellen Roberts

Representative Cheri Gerou

Senator Jeanne Nicholson

Representative Claire Levy

James Davis, Director, Colorado Dept. of Public Safety

Bo Pogue, Legislative Council Staff

 

Stay tuned for more information on how you can help.

Twitter photo from the air, photographer Cody Crouch




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Victims of Lower North Fork Fire in Midst of Another Controlled Burn

Victims of Lower North Fork Fire in Midst of Another Controlled Burn

Linda Kirkpatrick | 03 September 2012 – http://justaroundhere.com/life-in-evergreen/1876-victims-of-lower-north-fork-fire-in-midst-of-another-controlled-burn.html

Perhaps the most unlikely item on my desk is a piece of White House china – about 240 years old. It was a gift from Andy Hoover, the grandson of Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States. The blue-and-white Belgian porcelain with a scalloped rim was part of Herbert Hoover’s personal china that accompanied him when he moved into the White House in March of 1929. “Why have special china created when I have my own?” he was known to have said.

To ensure that these irreplaceable items would be preserved, Hoover and his wife, Jeanie, had built (12 years ago) a “fireproof” home – of insulated concrete forms and a metal roof – rather than the log cabin they’d originally planned. When I visited the Hoover property on Sunday, that home and those artifacts were but ashes, shards and twisted metal, remnants of the Lower North Fork Fire in March of this year. Andy sifted through debris to give me a memento of the tour.

Hoover had been in the house when flames ignited first one deck and then another, and he had tried his best to extinguish the flames. The fire had moved so rapidly that he was unsure he could safely escape on Kuehster Road, which offered only one way out – a four-mile drive to Pleasant Park Road. With all the smoke, he couldn’t tell where the fire had been or where it might be, or whether the only way out might well mean the end of his life.

He’d alerted neighbors a short time earlier of the impending dangers, talking to Sam and Linda (“Moanita”) Lucas, who lost their lives in the fire. Their home, located higher up on the mountain, had been visible from Andy’s place; but only a large, white propane tank and plenty of charred trees remained at the home site on Sunday.

“The flames moved up the mountain very quickly,” Andy said. News reports indicate firefighters estimated that, when the fire reached the “trigger point” for giving evacuation notices, homeowners two miles away would have about 2.5 hours’ time to get out. Firefighters later estimated it had actually taken only 12 minutes or so for flames to run that course.

It wasn’t as if people delayed getting out. There simply wasn’t time to escape.

Fingers of flames had extended in many directions – some spreading rapidly along the ground like tumbleweed across the plains in hurricane-force winds, some whipping through the tops of trees. Winds carried flaming debris as if bursting like fireworks at ground level. Andy witnessed rocks exploding from the intense heat.

When Andy’s garage doors would not open, he’d rammed his pickup truck through them, parking the truck not far away in the turnaround area of his driveway, staying in the vehicle and using his cell phone to photograph his home as it went up in flames. He admitted to being panicky but also recalled his determination to act as rationally as he could. The fire consumed nearly everything around him, burning hundreds of trees on his property but not touching another neighbor’s home just a stone’s throw away.

It was the driest March in a decade, I was told. The State of Colorado had been contracted by the Denver Water Board to conduct a “controlled burn” on 58 acres nearby. With red flag winds predicted and gusts actually measuring as high as 79 mph, the burn would get out of control on the fifth day – after not being monitored for 44 hours – and would eventually consume 4,100 acres.

The fire destroyed 23 residences and took 3 lives.

Rep. Cheri Gerou proposed that the legislature pass a provision to override the state regulation restricting liability to $600,000 per occurrence, and it was signed into law on June 4, 2012, retroactive to January 1.

Within days, large insurance companies with legal folks on staff were the first to file claims, as was IREA, the utility company servicing the area. Some of the homeowners, still in shock over the loss of their homes and neighbors, have slowly followed suit, although some have chosen not to be involved with the grueling process. They have until September 22nd to file the form giving a value of all their belongings and replacement values, as well as the cost to clear their land and re-seed, or they will be excluded from the process.

Two additional major fires in other parts of our tinder-dry state – The High Park Fire near Fort Collins and the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs – diverted folks initially sent in to help victims of the Lower North Fork Fire. Federal assistance was quickly put in place for the other fires, but any financial help for victims of the Lower North Fork Fire has been non-existent.

Soon after the fire, Gov. Hickenlooper set up a commission to review the process. But, bottom line, the victims have received nothing from the State. When a few homeowners were able to meet with the Colorado State Forest Service, representatives said they have no authorization or ability to offer anything more than “advice and networking,” according to Sharon Scanlan, another homeowner whose home burned to the ground.

More recently the governor attempted to get FEMA involved but was met with rejection because “it had been ‘a long time’ and the state hadn’t depleted the resources it had to offer,” according to Scanlan.  Yet no assistance has been offered to these families by the State.

Commission chair Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) admitted that it may be many months, if not years, before victims see special compensation from the State, if at all.

The group of homeowners is now experiencing another sort of controlled burn – trying to maintain their stamina and not losing their cool while dealing with the commission set up by the governor. They’ve been documenting their case and are now appealing to community leaders to get involved to help however they can in exerting pressure on the State.

How can we help? Some ideas may come forth from a meeting this week amongst those community leaders. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, a few groups have held fundraisers to provide some money to those affected so dramatically. The Evergreen Elks and the Mountain Resource Center held an event in July that produced more than $17,000.

The Women of Evergreen Businesses (WEB), of which I am a member, will hold a fundraiser on Wednesday, October 3rd, to help as well. Contact me if you’d like to buy a ticket ($35); or donations of any amount (payable to WEB) can be mailed to me at PO Box 805, Evergreen 80437.




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Lower North Fork Fire Victims Want Answers

Lower North Fork Fire Victims Want Answers

http://www.9news.com/news/article/282954/339/Lower-North-Fork-Fire-victims-want-answers

CONIFER – Family members of the three people killed in the Lower North Fork Fire were joined by a hundred others Monday evening, as they testified before a commission that will investigate the March wildfire.

The fire blew out of control after Forest Service employees failed to monitor a controlled burn.

During Monday’s three hour meeting, state representatives and other officials listened to concerns from the people affected by the fire.

“I want to know why the controlled burn was held in the first place,” Scott Appel said, who lost his wife and home in the fire.

Appel had a difficult time explaining to the commissioners how much he lost. But, he wasted no time questioning the people who started the fire.

Earlier in the day, victims took the commissioners on a tour of the burn area and showed them the remains of their homes.

“There was nothing to save,” Andy Hoover said.

Hoover and his wife also lost their home. They lived next door to the Appels.

“It’s startling,” Hoover said.

Aside from losing his home, Hoover also lost 2,200 items that his grandfather left him. His grandfather was former President Herbert Hoover.

“There were hand written speeches of granddad,” Hoover said. “He had a library of rare books, and china from the White House.”

Nearly two dozen homes were destroyed in the fire.

People at Monday’s meeting were asked to file claims immediately if they haven’t done so already. The deadline to file a claim is September 22.

Several lawsuits have also been filed by people who lost their homes.

9 News – http://www.9news.com/rss/story.aspx?storyid=282954

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Fire Chief: Colorado emergency wildfire response needs overhaul

Fire Chief: Colorado emergency wildfire response needs overhaul

http://kdvr.com/2012/08/22/commission-hears-about-inability-for-state-to-respond-to-wildfire/

DENVER One lawmaker was shocked to hear about the state of Colorados lack of ability to respond to a fast-moving, destructive wildfire.

The Lower North Fork Fire Commission heard testimony Wednesday about the fire in Jefferson County in March that killed three people and destroyed 23 homes.

The Lower North Fork Fire was probably about as bad a nightmare as any fire chief is ever going to encounter,” Elk Creek chief Bill McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin says that while he was asking for help, as the fire raged out of control, crews were being sent from as far away as California and Wyoming instead of his own backyard.

Some of those from closer locations didnt arrive until several hours after flames had already ripped through the community.

We dont have a good system for getting a large number of fire resources to an incident,” he said. We needed rapid action and we didn’t get it and my friends died and my community is in shatters,” resident Mary Ann Ellis said.

Crews responding to the Four Mile Fire in Boulder County two years ago ran into many of the same problems. Especially when it came to emergency notifications sent to homeowners. They also faced a lack of coordinated firefighting resources.

We were all, including myself, spent mentally, physically and that kind of thing and then at that point you’re expected to pick up and start the recovery,” said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle.

But frustrated homeowners say the commission hearings should focus on providing compensation.

The Lower North Fork Fire was started by state forestry crews during a prescribed burn.

This thing is a consequence pure and simple,” says Andy Hoover, whose home was destroyed in the fire. The record is clear on that and all this beating around the bush is really inappropriate.

It has been five months since the fire and the victims could be years from seeing any compensation. There’s still no guarantee they will get anything.




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Commission Looks At What Went Wrong With Lower North Fork Fire

Commission Looks At What Went Wrong With Lower North Fork Fire

News 4 Denver – http://denver.cbslocal.com/2012/08/13/commission-looks-at-what-went-wrong-with-lower-north-fork-fire/

DENVER (CBS4) – It started as a prescribed burn, but when it got out of control the Lower North Fork Fire destroyed 23 homes and killed three people. Now a commission is looking at what went wrong.

The fire started March 26 and burned 4,140 acres in Jefferson County, causing an estimated $11 million in damages. The fire raised plenty of questions about controlled burns.

Residents affected by the fire and fire experts talked with the commission Monday morning. The goal of the Lower North Fork Fire Commission is to fact find, and then make a recommendation on how to prevent another fire like it from happening again.

The meeting focused on public safety and the emergency alert system. There was also a lot of talk about the dry conditions in Colorado and the fire outlook for the state.

The first presentation was given by the Nature Conservancy. It had a large emphasis on all the fire fuel such as dry brush and grass and how to manage all of it. Clearing such fire fuels and thinning forests were mentioned, but the case was also made that prescribed burns are the best way to go. It’s a tough sell since that’s what caused the Lower North Fork Fire.

Following the blaze Gov. John Hickenlooper banned prescribed burns, but the Nature Conservancy says they want to bring them back.

“Effective treatments require a mix of tools to ensure maximum benefit,” Mike Babler with the Nature Conservancy told the commission. “We understand state agencies are under a prescribed fire ban. We hope they will resume using fire as a tool in the future.”

The commission also toured the burn area Monday afternoon.

Rocco Snart, the fire safety officer assigned to the prescribed burn, testified to the panel of lawmakers with questions about fire behavior.

“You have a certain limited window that you have really viable and good information,” Snart said.

The commission is scheduled to reveal the details of their three-month investigation Monday evening at Conifer High School to residents from the Lower North Fork Fire.




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Lower North Fork Fire Commission Struggles to Find Answers

Lower North Fork Fire Commission Struggles to Find Answers

August 23, 2012 – By Leslie Jorgensen – http://thecoloradoobserver.com/2012/08/fire-commission-struggles-to-find-answers/

DENVER The Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission listened to nearly six hours of testimony Wednesday that revealed inadequacies in the state’s emergency response to fires, conflicts between governmental regulations for prescribed burns and disputes over the purpose of the commission.

The hearing did not produce answers for the victims of a government-authorized prescribed burn” in March that erupted into a massive fire, killing three people, decimating 23 homes and destroying more than 4,000 acres in Jefferson County.

I am not seeing a concerted effort to answer questions that the victims put forward,” said Rep.Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen), who, along with Rep. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs), sponsored legislation that created the commission.

Commission Chair Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) said the purpose of the hearings to enable the commissioners to make recommendations to prevent tragedies similar to the Lower North Fork Fire. The commissions report will not declare blame or determine compensation for the victims.

Chief Bill McLaughlin of the Elk Creek Fire Protection District said he had called for additional emergency fire responders when high winds swept the prescribed fire into a raging blaze. McLaughlin said several hours passed before nearby crews arrived.

Experts testified that prescribed burns are used to thin forests and prevent fires, but they require wind to achieve the purpose as well as clear the air of smoke to comply with air quality regulations enforced by the Air Pollution Control division of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

After the commission had listened to nearly five hours of 30-minute presentations by government officials, Gerou bristled when the fire victims were allotted only five minutes to make statements and ask questions.

If we are limiting their testimony when in fact the purpose of the legislation was to allow the victims voice, I have a little bit of a problem. No, I have a big problem with limiting their testimony to five minutes,” declared Gerou.

But, the hearing agenda was set and allowed just 30 minutes total to hear the victims comments.

I take profound exception to what I heard today,” said Andy Hoover of Conifer. It’s a mockery of an investigation.”

I feel that there’s been a bit of dancing going on here,” said Gerou of the failure to get direct answers and accountability for the Lower North Fork Fire.

The victims, she said, have lost faith in government and their trust had not been restored because the hearings have not produced truthful, clear answers.

There’s a misimpression about what we’re able to do here,” said Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder), who noted that legislation creating the commission limited it to five hearings and allotted no funding.

If the intent of the bill was to conduct a full blown investigation into prescribed burn policies, emergency response and evacuation notices, Levy said, it fell short.

Of all the hours of testimony heard, Gerou said Levy’s comments were probably the most honest.”

Testimony by some government officials might also be constrained because it could be used against them in litigation of victims claims against the state.

The commission plans to reconvene in September, and will submit a report to the legislature by Dec. 31 with recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy.




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Five months later, Lower North Fork victims await resolution

Five months later, Lower North Fork victims await resolution

http://kdvr.com/2012/08/12/five-months-later-lower-north-fork-victims-await-resolution/

DENVER – Nearly five months after the Lower North Fork Fire destroyed two dozen homes and killed three people, survivors are venting their frustrurations over the long and arduous recovery.

The Lower North Fork Fire burned 4,000 acres after investigators say embers from a nearby prescribed burn grew out of control, threatening homes.

“I know you have many questions…we will listen but we cannot answer those questions,” said a state lawmaker to a crowded room of fire survivors. Following Monday’s meeting many reported feeling unsatisfied with the state’s efforts to compensate victims for the blaze.

“This was started by a group that you and I pay taxes to for their salary,” said Sharon Scanlan, a Jefferson County resident who lost her home in March.

Several lawsuits are already pending against the state of Colorado for damages caused by the fire.

“This was an activity sanctioned by the state, prescribed by the state and there should be some responsibility by the state,” Governor John Hickenlooper said.

“We all know our property values have plummeted because of this,” homeowner Ross Eckel said. “To what degree we’re trying to find out.”

While Eckel’s home is still standing, his neighborhood is gone. He worries that survivors will be forgotten.

“We just don’t want to be brushed off and put into the oblivion of time,” Eckel said.

“I’m really working on that forgiveness thing,” Scanlan added. “But it would be a whole lot easier if we could get some recompense from the state.”

Survivors are expected to meet with state lawmakers again in late August.




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