Tag Archives: Elk Creek Fire Department

6 months of frustration for Lower North Fork Fire victims

6 months of frustration for Lower North Fork Fire victims

http://www.9news.com/news/article/291442/188/6-months-of-frustration-for-Lower-North-Fork-Fire-victims

Kyle Clark 9News

JEFFERSON COUNTY – Six months to the day that a Colorado Forest Service prescribed burn raced out of control killing three people and claiming 23 homes, people impacted by the fire are condemning the state’s response.

They say they have received no state aid to help them clear burned trees from their properties and get on with the business of rebuilding their homes and lives.

“It’s terrible that we’ve been put in this situation where we’re basically begging to have the state do what they should have done six months ago,” said Tom Scanlon, who lost his house. “It’s been six months and we have absolutely nothing.”

A common refrain is the lack of accountability by state leaders.

“If anybody else had done this, they would be in jail and there’d be all kinds of people helping us,” Scanlan said.

“We’re trying to take anyone for a ride, but they should have antied up somehow already,” said Andy Hoover, whose home burned in the fire.

“You know, if I go down to the Capitol and leave a bunch of burnt sticks down there, they’ll write me a ticket for littering,” Hoover said. “I’ll refuse the ticket and countersue them for littering my place.”

They decry the state’s commission formed to investigate the fire as lacking focus and a will to truly investigate.

“Talk is cheap and I knew we’d hear a lot of cheap talk,” Hoover said. “I think it was a waste of time and money. It was a bunch of political dancing.”

State Representative Cheri Gerou, a Republican from Evergreen who represents the area, sat on the commission. She doesn’t disagree.

“This is the most breathtaking example of how the system doesn’t work,” Gerou said. “I felt ashamed of the way the state is handling this situation.”

“We know the state caused the fire. It was a controlled burn that was started by the state. So why people are not willing to talk about that openly, I just don’t understand,” Gerou said.

The commission finished its work this week with several recommendations for the legislature, but it did not endorse several proposals initiated by the fire victims and introduced by Gerou.

Gerou and the victims are upset the state is lumping the families’ claims in with those of insurance companies and businesses. Victims have been told it will be many months, if not years, before they see compensation.

“We don’t have immunity. The government does. So they hold all the cards. And we’re left holding the bag,” said Scott Appel, whose wife Ann was killed in the fire.

“If the Colorado state government can do this to us, they can do it to you,” Appel said.

Neighbors including Appel, Scanlan and Hoover are documenting what they have learned about the origin of the fire and their community’s attempt to recover on a website, http://lnff.info/

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)




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Residents angered at Lower North Fork Fire commission’s failure to address wildfire’s cause

Residents angered at Lower North Fork Fire commission’s failure to address wildfire’s cause
http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/lower-north-fork-fire-commission-we-will-not-be-determining-fault-negligence-
  • Denver 7 News : Deb Stanley – Amanda Kost – Alan Gathright

DENVER – Residents who lost loved ones and homes to the Lower North Fork Fire were disappointed and angry when the head of a state commission chair said the panel would not determine fault or negligence.

“This commission was not set up to find fault,” said State Senator Ellen Roberts. “This is not a courtroom.”

During the Lower North Fork Fire Commission’s last public hearing on Tuesday, residents blasted the panel’s failure to get to the bottom of the March wildfire in Jefferson County that killed three people and destroyed 22 homes when high  winds spread embers from a controlled burn by state firefighters.

“You’re making a mockery of the word investigation,” Andy Hoover, who lost his home in the wildfire,  told the commission. “You, ladies and gentleman, are here because of a bill that was passed…that charges you with investigating.  I think that you are avoiding your charge.”

“You’re diluting our ability to be heard to the point of nonsense,” he added.

Scott Appel, who lost his wife, home and land in the fire, was stunned by the commission’s inability to address the causes of the devastating inferno.

“I’ve heard no answers,” he told the panel. “If the state is going to take on prescribed burns and risk what’s happened … in the case of this fire, they need to be prepared to fully and quickly make it right with the people that are damaged. The exact opposite of what’s taken place here.”

According to the House Bill 1352 , which created the Lower North Fork Fire Commission, the commission was supposed “to investigate the causes of the wildfire and to make recommendations for legislative or other action that would prevent the occurrence of a similar tragedy.”

“The main thing the commission was supposed to do was investigate the cause of the wildfire. Has it?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

“Not in my mind, no it hasn’t. There haven’t been any direct answers to any of the direct questions by any of the wildfire victims,” State Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, said before the hearing.

Gerou sponsored the bill that created the commission which she sits on.

“The proceedings of the commission have not fulfilled the requirements of House Bill 1352 and have not satisfied, I believe, the intent of the legislation,” said Gerou. “I’m really uncomfortable with the way the commission’s gone forward. I don’t think that they’ve been honest with the victims.”

7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost asked Roberts, chair of the commission, if her panel had really investigated the wildfire?

“I think we have to the extent that we can as four legislators,” Roberts, a Durango Republican, replied.

“This commission never was intended to be about the fault determining whose fault it was in this particular fire or compensation,” Roberts added.

Kost asked if the commission questioned state forest service employees about how they handled the controlled burn?

“The state forest service has come here to speak generally about forest health,” Roberts said. “You do need to recognize, there is an existing lawsuit (and forest officials) would not be allowed to speak (about their handling of the controlled burn). And we have not asked them to speak to the events of that day, because that’s not our task.”

Ask for her responsive to Gerou’s criticism of the commission’s work, Roberts said, “She’s entitled to her opinion. I disagree with that.”

On Tuesday, the commission voted to forward four proposed bills for the 2013 legislative session. The bills will be reviewed next month by the state Legislative Council.

The draft legislation includes proposals to require the state to adopt standards for conducting a controlled burn and to extend tax breaks to encourage homeowners to do wildfire mitigation to protect their property. Another draft bill would strengthen the state government’s ability to mobilize resources during the initial attack on a wildfire.

The commission killed two other draft bills. One would have raised the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act’s cap on state liability for wildfire damages from $600,000 per person to $1.2 million per person. The other bill would have required the development of county land regulations to combat wildfires .

Deputy Attorney General David Blake said at least 132 legal claims have been filed against the states over its handling of the fire. Total damages are in excess of $20 million.

The Lower North Fork fire killed three people; Sam and Linda Lucas and Ann Appel. It charred 4,140 acres and destroyed 22 homes.




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Lower North Fork Fire commission: ‘We will not be determining fault, negligence’

Lower North Fork Fire commission: ‘We will not be determining fault, negligence’
http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/lower-north-fork-fire-commission-we-will-not-be-determining-fault-negligence-
Denver 7 News
  • By: Deb Stanley
  • By: Amanda Kost

DENVER – The chair of the commission investigating the Lower North Fork Fire said the group will not be determining fault or negligence.

“This commission was not set up to find fault,” said State Senator Ellen Roberts. “This is not a courtroom.”

However, according to the House Bill 1352 , which created the Lower North Fork Fire Commission, the commission was supposed “to investigate the causes of the wildfire and to make recommendations for legislative or other action that would prevent the occurrence of a similar tragedy.”

“The main thing the commission was supposed to do was investigate the cause of the wildfire. Has it?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

“Not in my mind, no it hasn’t. There haven’t been any direct answers to any of the direct questions by any of the wildfire victims,” said State Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.

Gerou sponsored the bill that created the commission which she sits on.

“The proceedings of the commission have not fulfilled the requirements of House Bill 1352 and have not satisfied, I believe, the intent of the legislation,” said Gerou. “I’m really uncomfortable with the way the commission’s gone forward. I don’t think that they’ve been honest with the victims.”

The group is holding its final meeting on Tuesday.

They are discussing draft bills that could be presented during the 2013 legislative session, but fire victims are not happy.

“You are making a mockery of the investigation,” Andy Hoover told the commission. “You, ladies and gentleman, are here because of a bill that was passed…that charges you with investigating.  I think that you are avoiding your charge.”

Hoover lost his home in the fire.

So far, two bills have been blocked by the commission. One would have increased the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act maximum amount for injury from $600,000 to $1,200,000. The other would have required development of county land regulations for wildfires.

Deputy Attorney General David Blake said at least 132 claims have been filed. Total damages are in excess of $20 million.

The Lower North Fork fire killed three people; Sam and Linda Lucas and Ann Appel. It charred 4,140 acres and destroyed 22 homes.

The March fire started days after a Colorado State Forest Service prescribed burn.




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Commissioner: Lower North Fork Fire Commission has not found answers

Commissioner: Lower North Fork Fire Commission has not found answers
http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/lower-north-fork-fire-commission-has-not-fulfilled-its-duties
  • By: Marshall Zelinger – Denver 7 News

DENVER – The Lower North Fork Fire Commission will meet for the final time on Tuesday and 7NEWS has uncovered that the commission has not fulfilled its duties.

According to the House Bill 1352 , which created the Lower North Fork Fire Commission, the commission was supposed “to investigate the causes of the wildfire and to make recommendations for legislative or other action that would prevent the occurrence of a similar tragedy.”The Lower North Fork fire started on March 26 after a Colorado State Forest Service prescribed burn on Denver Water Board property reignited. The fire escaped its boundaries, killed three people and destroyed nearly two dozen homes.

“The main thing the commission was supposed to do was investigate the cause of the wildfire. Has it?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

“Not in my mind, no it hasn’t. There haven’t been any direct answers to any of the direct questions by any of the wildfire victims,” said State Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.

Gerou sponsored the bill that created the commission which she sits on.

“The proceedings of the commission have not fulfilled the requirements of House Bill 1352 and have not satisfied, I believe, the intent of the legislation,” said Gerou. “I’m really uncomfortable with the way the commission’s gone forward. I don’t think that they’ve been honest with the victims.”

The commission has met four times. At the capitol, it has listened to testimony, mainly about wildfires in general terms and not specifically the Lower North Fork fire.

“For instance, the Denver Water Board, when they came forward, the presentation avoided the questions about the Lower North Fork fire,” said Gerou.

“How many times did someone from the Colorado State Forest Service testify in front of the Lower North Fork Fire Commission?”

“As I recall, it was only once and it was not in the direct way that you would think with the Lower North Fork fire,” said Gerou.

The commissioners also took a field trip last month to the spot where the fire escaped and got out of control.

“My intent with this legislation was to really investigate what happened at the Lower North Fork fire and that’s not happened,” said Gerou. “The state has adopted an attitude where, ‘It’s OK if I burn down your house. It’s OK if I take your wife’s life. It’s OK if I take your grandparents life, but I’m not going to take any responsibility.”

The fire killed Ann Appel, a wife and mother of two, as well as Sam and Linda Lucas.

“Was this commission a waste of time, resources and money?” asked Zelinger.

“This commission was a frustration. It wasn’t what I hoped it would be,” said Gerou. “We made a promise to them, another promise to them that we didn’t keep.”

Gerou told 7NEWS that she will likely author a “minority report,” countering the findings of the commission.

7NEWS asked if the commission has avoided specifics because of fear that anything the finds fault with the state could be used against the state in the claims process or in court.

“That’s the unspoken assumption,” said Gerou.

“Should the final report from this commission state, ‘The Colorado State Forest Service is to blame for the Lower North Fork fire?'” asked Zelinger.

“I think it should. That’s what the declaration of the bill says,” said Gerou.

“Will it?” asked Zelinger.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ll see tomorrow. If I have anything to do with it, it will, but I don’t have a lot of hope,” said Gerou.

On Tuesday, the commission will debate potential bills that someone could sponsor during the 2013 legislative session.

One bill requests an increase to the state’s governmental immunity liability from $600,000 to $1.2 million. Right now, the state is limited to paying out up to $600,000 for all victims of a state-caused event. However, legislation passed earlier this year is supposed to allow victims of the Lower North Fork fire to potentially be awarded more than the $600,000 limit.

Another bill will call for prescribed burns to continue in Colorado, but with precautionary measures. Governor John Hickenlooper halted all prescribed burns shortly after the Lower North Fork fire.

Another bill would create a wildfire prevention and mitigation committee.

A third bill would allow a tax exemption to continue for landowners who do wildfire mitigation on their property.
7NEWS will be at the final Lower North Fork Fire Commission hearing on Tuesday to find out why the commission has not investigated the fire.




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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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Investigators – There will be No Criminal Charges in the Lower North Fork Wildfire

Investigators – There will be No Criminal Charges in the Lower North Fork Wildfire

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Investigators announced Wednesday there will be no criminal charges in the Lower North Fork wildfire.

The prescribed burn that exploded out of control, killed three people and damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes happened as a result of a number of bad things happening at once, and not as a result of criminal activity.

Residents of the area that caught fire attended a town hall meeting. It was polite on the surface, but anger simmers among people… they’re mad because the reports don’t place any blame the fire.

They had a chance to voice some of their concerns, and officials expressed their sympathy. But that doesn’t mean a whole lot to the people who lost everything in the fire.

They’re still looking for answers about how the decisions were made to move forward with a prescribed burn during the driest March on record.

Four days after the prescribed burn, a warm and windy day fanned hot spots that remained, and within hours the fire had spread to 4,000 acres, destroying homes and lives as it raced through a neighborhood.




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Wildfire report is just “CYA report,” Victim’s Say

Wildfire report is just “CYA report,” Victim’s Say

http://kdvr.com/2012/04/17/wildfire-report-is-just-cya-report-victim-says/

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — After a report released Monday, some home owners who lost their homes in the Lower North Fork Fire have harsh words for the state’s investigation into what went wrong.

That fire burned more than 4,000 acres, destroyed more than two dozen homes and killed three people.

The governor’s report recommended major changes to the way controlled burns are handled.

It also recommends the state change its emergency response capabilities, and Colorado’s congressional delegation is now calling for a federal review.

Coe Meyer reflects what many homeowners are saying.

“If state workers set the fire under any circumstances, the state should be held accountable for the consequences,” says Meyers.

And he uses the term CYA to describe what he says is going on.

The report points blame at four factors, which, when combined, turned a prescribed burn into a ferocious wildfire.

“I think the report was kind of a CYA report,” said Meyer. “I’m 62 years old. I’m semi retired and this was my dream home.”

Meyer says the report misses the point.

“The operation was successful, but the patient died. That operation should have never taken place,” he says.

He says he doesn’t understand how a forestry crew missed what everyone else up there already knew, no matter what the prescribed burn forecast.

“We were told over and over again in the media, on the placards and posters up in the mountains. Common sense—the driest February and March in the history of Colorado,” Meyer says.

The governor’s panel recommended changes in prescribed burn protocols.

But Meyer and neighbors like Andy Hoover, who shot video of his own home burning, say the state started the fire that burned their homes and killed their neighbors, and the state should accept responsibility.

“If a surgeon has a perfect surgery but misses one thing technically, then there’s liability at that point for the surgeon if the patient doesn’t recover. I don’t see this being any different,” Meyer says.

“Get rid of this nonsense about limited liability to cover themselves,” says Andy Hoover. “Because their responsibility in my mind and most people’s minds is absolutely clear.”

We also talked to two state lawmakers from Jefferson County who both said the governor’s report is a good first step, but added that they are waiting for at least three other reports to be completed before drawing any conclusions about the fire.

Wednesday night there is public meeting scheduled at the Conifer Middle School at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the fire and other local issues.




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