Tag Archives: LNFF Investigation

Lower North Fork Fire victims demand restitution, apology in letter to lawmakers

Lower North Fork Fire victims demand restitution, apology in letter to lawmakers

Marshall Zelinger  – Denver 7 News| goo.gl/qbbFi

DENVER – Victims of the Lower North Fork Fire went to lawmakers on Tuesday with a long list of demands that include restitution and an apology.

The fire killed Ann Appel and Sam and Linda Lucas, destroyed 22 homes and burned 4,148 acres.

The blaze started as a prescribed burn set by the Colorado State Forest Service on March 22, 2012. It was not properly extinguished and escaped its boundaries on March 26.

One year later, the victim’s claims not covered by insurance are no closer to being paid.

Many of those victims went to state lawmakers Tuesday with the letter. It starts with, “On March 26,2012, the Lower North Fork Fire started by the Colorado State Forest Service killed three of our neighbors, devasted [sic] our land, burned our homes and degraded our lives forever.”

The letter from the Kuehster Road homeowners group and community asks for help.

“We want you to stand in our shoes and give this matter the attention it deserves,” the letter says. “Ask yourself what you want the state to do if it had been you, your home, your family?”

“We want to heal. We want want to stop grieving and being forced to relive this tragedy in court,” the letter says. “We want justice now so we can move on with our lives, instead of this perpetual degrading situation the AG has forced us into.”

“We are now nearly one year after the fire and not a dime has been paid to my clients, and we are still stuck on square one because of bureaucratic red tape posed to us by the Attorneys General,” said Tom Henderson, an attorney representing a number of the victims. “This is anything but real-time compensation. They didn’t have to do it that way. They could have allowed the claims board process to work through its natural course as it was designed to do by our legislature.”

The letter to lawmakers ends with, “We believe in your ability to end the pride and politics that continue to disrupt and delay our rightful judicial process, and help us become whole again.”

 

Homeowners letter to Legislators

 

 

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Homeowners Call Out Colorado AG John Suthers for Blocking Claims

Homeowners Call Out Colorado AG John Suthers for Blocking Claims

One year after Lower North Fork Fire, survivors are no closer to compensation from Colorado

Marshall Zelinger  – 7 News Denver-  goo.gl/o3H5o

As they approach the one-year mark since the Lower North Fork Fire, survivors seek answers from the Attorney General about their claims against the state.

One year ago on Tuesday, the Lower North Fork Fire took the lives of Ann Appel and Sam and Linda Lucas. It destroyed 22 homes and charred 4,100 acres.

The fire was a prescribed burn set by the Colorado State Forest Service on March 22, 2012. It was not properly extinguished and escaped its boundaries on March 26.

Nearly one year later, the claims not covered by insurance, are no closer to being paid to the survivors.

“Where should you be right now? One year later,” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

“I would have hoped to have been in a home instead of in my third rental,” said survivor Tom Scanlan.

Lower North Fork Fire survivors received a surprise in Jefferson County District Court on Friday afternoon.

Attorneys representing the Attorney General’s Office presented a plan that would allow some victims to have their claims heard through a state claims board process, while other claims would still have to go through the judicial process in court.

In a joint news conference in May, Governor John Hickenlooper, Attorney General John Suthers and both legislative houses announced a compromise that would allow Lower North Fork Fire victims a chance to avoid court and have their full claims heard by a state claims board on which Suthers sits.

“How soon would this take effect and how soon could these victims be getting money?” Zelinger asked at that May news conference.

“It takes effect, immediately, right? Upon my signature, it takes effect. They prepare or present their claims to the claims board; it’s happening in real time,” said Hickenlooper.

Suthers and then-Senate President Brandon Shaffer assisted the Governor in his answer.

Nearly one year to the date of the fire, the victims have not been allowed to go through the claims board process. They are stuck in court, despite being told they could avoid that process.

In February, 7NEWS asked the Attorney General’s Office why the victims are being forced to go through a court process.

We found out that once the insurance companies sued the state, seeking restitution for claims it had paid out, the victims’ claims were bundled into the court process. The victims must now wait for the judicial process to play out before the legislative claims board can hear any additional claims.

–Options presented to survivors by Attorney General’s representatives in court–

In court on Friday, the Attorney General’s Office presented three options for victims:

1. Claimants with documented economic loses can present their claims to the state claims board and then have those recommendations considered by the state legislature for final approval.

2. Claimants with non-economic loses can have their claims considered by a four-judge “judicial arbiter group” which would review the claims and consider compensation to be approved by a judge through the court process.

3. Claimants with non-economic loses and “exotic claims,” such as civil rights and inverse condemnation claims, will have to go to litigation and not be allowed to have their claims heard by the state claims board.

The attorneys in the court equaled the number of survivors watching the proceedings. There were attorneys representing the victims, various insurance companies and Intermountain Rural Electric Association.

“We are now nearly one year after the fire and not a dime has been paid to my clients, and we are still stuck on square one because of bureaucratic red tape posed to us by the Attorneys General,” said Tom Henderson, an attorney representing a number of the victims. “This is anything but real-time compensation. They didn’t have to do it that way. They could have allowed the claims board process to work through its natural course as it was designed to do by our legislature.”

The defendants include the state of Colorado, the Colorado State Forest Service and three individuals who were directly involved with the prescribed burn that led to the Lower North Fork Fire. Nearly a dozen attorneys represented the defendants.

“We’re now a year out (and) this legislative session recesses in early May. How in the world can my people get compensation in that amount of time, even if it’s not full compensation? They can, perhaps, get some compensation by the time legislature recesses,” said Henderson. “If that legislature recesses and my clients don’t have fair compensation, we’re now eight more months down the road until January of 2014, before the legislature is back in session.”

“We’re one year later, is this real time,” asked Zelinger.

“Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not,” said State. Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs.

Gardner sponsored the bill that allowed survivors to avoid court by presenting their claims to the state claims board.

“I have to tell you, it was never meant to be this complicated,” said Gardner.

–Survivors seek answers from Attorney General–

“The Attorney General has done nothing but to delay and impede the will of the legislation,” said Scanlan.

The survivors want answers from the Attorney General.

“I guess I’d ask the question, ‘why would the state not hold itself to the same time standard they would hold any private party to or any insurance company?'” said Appel. “It’s a joke and not a good one.”

“I would just love to sit down and have a conversation and say so much, and listen to what his logic is,” said Jenny Lucas, granddaughter of Sam and Linda Lucas.

“I’d like to tell the Attorney General how disgusted I am at the incredible display of chicanery that we saw in the courtroom (Friday),” said Scanlan.

“I’d like to ask him if he believes that these people deserve restitution from our state,” said Beth Semptimphelter. “I think he’s got to believe that to go forward and really pull for it.”

“How does it feel to be back here in the courtroom? Disgusting. It does. I can’t believe that this isn’t behind us yet,” said Lower North Fork Fire survivor Kim Olson. “I feel like we’re a challenge, we’re a problem and it’s something they’d like to get past. And for us, our lives are on hold. We’re just basically hanging here, waiting for them to do the right thing.”

Since late February, 7NEWS has made multiple requests to interview Suthers regarding the process that the Lower North Fork Fire victims are going through. On March 14, Suthers’ spokeswoman scheduled an interview time for March 21. Early that morning, the interview was abruptly canceled. 7NEWS was told it was because of security concerns. On Friday, the spokeswoman told 7NEWS it was because Suthers had a change in his schedule.

“This is not about us. This is about the state. The state that hasn’t done anything for us yet,” said survivor Jeanie Hoover.

The next court date is May 3.

Survivors of the Lower North Fork Fire plan to gather at the State Capitol on Tuesday, exactly one year after the fire.

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Attorney General’s Office presents new hurdle keeping Lower North Fork Fire claims from swift review

Attorney General’s Office presents new hurdle keeping Lower North Fork Fire claims from swift review

Marshall Zelinger  – Denver 7 News – goo.gl/oKRD5

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. – Lower North Fork Fire victims received a surprise in Jefferson County District Court on Friday afternoon.

Attorneys representing the Attorney General’s Office presented a plan that would allow some victims to have their claims heard through a state claims board process, while other claims would still have to go through the judicial process in court.

This played out in a courtroom exactly one year after the Colorado State Forest Service ignited a prescribed burn that four days later would escape its intended boundaries. On March 26, 2012, the Lower North Fork Fire destroyed 4,140 acres, 22 homes and killed three people.

In a joint news conference in May, Governor John Hickenlooper, Attorney General John Suthers and both legislative houses announced a compromise that would allow Lower North Fork Fire victims a chance to avoid court and have their full claims heard by a state claims board on which Suthers sits.

“How soon would this take effect and how soon could these victims be getting money?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger at that May news conference.

“It takes effect, immediately right? Upon my signature, it takes effect. They prepare or present their claims to the claims board; it’s happening in real time,” said Hickenlooper.

The Governor was assisted in his answer by Suthers and then-Senate President Brandon Shaffer.

Nearly one year to the date of the fire, the victims have not been allowed to go through the claims board process. They are stuck in court, despite being told they could avoid that process.

In February, 7NEWS asked the Attorney General’s Office why the victims are being forced to go through a court process.

We found out that once the insurance companies sued the state, seeking restitution for claims it had paid out, the victims’ claims were bundled into the court process. The victims must now wait for the judicial process to play out before any additional claims can be heard by the legislative claims board.

In court on Friday, the Attorney General’s Office presented three options for victims:

1. Claimants with documented economic loses can present their claims to the state claims board and then have those recommendations considered by the state legislature for final approval.

2. Claimants with non-economic loses can have their claims considered by a four-judge “judicial arbiter group” which would review the claims and consider compensation to be approved by a judge through the court process.

3. Claimants with non-economic loses and “exotic claims,” such as civil rights and inverse condemnation claims, will have to go to litigation and not be allowed to have their claims heard by the state claims board.

“I’d like to tell the Attorney General how disgusted I am at the incredible display of chicanery that we saw in the courtroom today,” said Lower North Fork Fire survivor Tom Scanlan.

“How does it feel to be back here in the courtroom? Disgusting. It does. I can’t believe that this isn’t behind us yet,” said Lower North Fork Fire survivor Kim Olson.

The attorneys in the court equaled the number of survivors watching the proceedings. There were attorneys representing the victims, various insurance companies and Intermountain Rural Electric Association.

“We are now nearly one year after the fire and not a dime has been paid to my clients, and we are still stuck on square one because of bureaucratic red tape posed to us by the Attorneys General,” said Tom Henderson, an attorney representing a number of the victims. “This is anything but real-time compensation.”

The defendants include the state of Colorado, the Colorado State Forest Service and three individuals who were directly involved with the prescribed burn that led to the Lower North Fork Fire. The defendants were represented by nearly a dozen attorneys.

“We’re now a year out (and) this legislative session recesses in early May. How in the world can my people get compensation in that amount of time, even if it’s not full compensation? They can, perhaps, get some compensation by the time legislature recesses,” said Henderson. “If that legislature recesses and my clients don’t have fair compensation, we’re now eight more months down the road until January of 2014, before the legislature is back in session.”

Scott Appel, whose wife Ann was killed in the fire, wants to know why no one has been held accountable nearly one year later.

“I guess I’d ask the question, ‘why would the state not hold itself to the same time standard they would hold any private party to or any insurance company?'” said Appel. “It’s a joke and not a good one.”

Since late February, 7NEWS has made multiple requests to interview Suthers regarding the process that the Lower North Fork Fire victims are going through. On March 14, Suthers’ spokeswoman scheduled an interview time for March 21. Early that morning, the interview was abruptly canceled. 7NEWS was told it was because of security concerns. On Friday, the spokeswoman told 7NEWS it was because Suthers had a change in his schedule.

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Gov. Hickenlooper vowed ‘real time’ claims process, Lower North Fork Fire victims still waiting

Gov. Hickenlooper vowed ‘real time’ claims process, Lower North Fork Fire victims still waiting

Marshall Zelinger  | 7 News

http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/after-promises-of-a-real-time-claims-process-lower-north-fork-fire-victims-still-waiting

DENVER – As the one year anniversary approaches for the Lower North Fork Fire, lawmakers will spend Wednesday debating an increase to the amount of money the state is liable for in a state-caused incident.

Right now, the state is only liable up to $600,000 for all those harmed and no more than $150,000 for any one individual.

The bill at the legislature would increase the state’s liability to $990,000, with no more than $440,000 to any one individual. It also calls for the dollar amounts to be adjusted for inflation every four years.

While lawmakers debate increasing the limit for future incidents, 7NEWS has learned that none of the Lower North Fork Fire victims are close to receiving compensation from the state for the March 26, 2012, fire that killed three residents and destroyed 22 homes.

“Not one dollar. Not one dollar to the people that were burned to the ground. Not a penny and the fire was 11 months ago today,” Scott Appel told 7NEWS.

Appel’s wife, Ann, was killed in the fire. His home and all his belongings were destroyed.

“I certainly think that they need to care of the catastrophe that was rained down upon the people in this neighborhood, on this road, before they move forward and change things for the future,” said Appel. “The thing that makes it worse than just the damage that’s been inflicted on all these people is the utter lack of responsibility and accountability.”

In May, 7NEWS aired a 30-minute special entitled, “Investigating The Fire.” The special uncovered governmental mistakes and communication failures.

One day after the special aired, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Attorney General John Suthers and lawmakers announced a compromise on two pieces of legislation.

One bill created a commission to investigate the Lower North Fork Fire. The other bill created a process for victims to bypass the courts and have their claims heard by a legislative claims board instead.

At a May news conference, 7NEWS asked about the speed of the claims process.

“How soon would this take effect and how soon could these victims be getting money?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

“Well, it takes effect immediately, right? Upon my signature, it takes effect,” Hickenlooper said. “They prepare or present their claims to the claims board. It’s happening in real time.”

“There’s been one delay after another,” said Appel.

“The Governor and Attorney General promised you a legislative process for your claim to be heard. Has your claim been heard yet?” asked Zelinger.

“No, it hasn’t,” said Appel. “We were told by the Deputy Attorney General, in several meetings, that our claims would be heard, ‘No time soon, maybe years.'”

Other fire victims share Appel’s outrage.

“I think so many people think we’ve been taken care of. We just want people to know, ‘No, we have not been taken care of.’ This has not been resolved. We have not been made whole,” said fire victim Kristen Moeller. “It feels exhausting. We would just rather have this be done with. We just want the end like we thought we would have when we sat with the Governor that day.”

“The way it feels and the way it looks is, it’s like they’re just stalling, hoping we’re just going to go away,” said Kristen’s husband David Cottrell. “The board they put together to do the review has done pretty much everything except look at our cases. I don’t know what they’ve been doing exactly, but they certainly haven’t been looking at our situation.”

7NEWS reached out to the Attorney General’s Office to find out why the victims’ claims have not been heard through the legislative process. We found out that once the insurance companies sued the state, the victims’ claims were bundled into the court process. The victims must now wait for the judicial process to play out before any additional claims can be heard by the legislative claims board.

7NEWS also contacted State Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, who sponsored the bill to create the legislative claims process. He told 7NEWS that he is disappointed that the victims have not received a faster way to compensation. He also said he meant for his bill to give the victims a choice of going through the court system or through the legislative claims process.

In an email to 7NEWS, the Attorney General’s Office provided this explanation:

When insurers sued the state on July 2, 2012, we interpleaded the amount available to pay damages from the Risk Management Fund according to the cap on damages of §24-10-114(1)(b) among the plaintiff insurers and fire victims who had filed notices of claims as of the date of our response to the insurers’ lawsuit, July 23, 2012.  At that time we asked the court to stay proceedings until the close of the notice period so that all claimants could be joined and have a chance in participating in the available coverage, and the court agreed with that process. 

When the claims notice period expired, we promptly amended our petition in interpleader to name all who filed notices of claims. We then began the process of serving the interpleader on all unrepresented claimants, but many were difficult to locate. To expedite service, we requested attorneys who had filed notices of claims on behalf of their clients to accept informal service and they did or did not to varying degrees.  As part of agreements to waive formal service, we agreed that we conceded liability for claims under §24-10-106.1, the new waiver of the State’s immunity passed by the General Assembly in the 2012 session.  Service was largely completed by the time of the January 25, 2013, status conference in Jefferson County District Court.  By then, the bulk of represented claimants, through counsel, represented that their responses to the interpleader, including their counterclaims and third party claims, would be filed by January 31, 2013.  However they were not filed by that date.  Some have still not been filed to this date.  A large portion of the responses, counterclaims, and third party claims were only filed at the close of business yesterday, February 25, 2013.

The process for hearing claims in front of the Claims Board involves authority given to the Claims Board in last year’s HB 1361, which calls for recommendations from the Claims Board to the General Assembly to pay additional compensation to fire victims.  The political process envisioned by the General Assembly in that the bill requires that the Claims Board’s recommendation for additional compensation include only noneconomic losses or injuries, “reduced to the extent the claimants loss is or will be covered by another source …”.  In other words, the Claims Board may only consider otherwise uncompensated losses (emphasis added).  Litigation brought by claimants, including claims outside of §24-10-106.1 for inverse condemnation, and claims against third parties, will thus delay consideration by the Claims Board.  If claims were limited to those for which the General Assembly waived immunity under §24-10-106.1, there could be a very much expedited process through the courts and into the General Assembly for consideration.  These other claims we are required to vigorously defend, however.

It is necessary to exhaust funds available from the Risk Management Fund and resolve other claims before the Claims Board can consider recommendations.  The process will be more complicated and lengthier the more we face claims outside of claims envisioned by the General Assembly.

– See more at: http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/after-promises-of-a-real-time-claims-process-lower-north-fork-fire-victims-still-waiting#sthash.bF3GIWzb.dpuf

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Broken Promises from State to Victims

Broken Promises from State to Victims

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers Joins Victims Claims to Insurance Companies Litigation – Deputy AG Tells Homeowners the Process with not be Quick and could take Years, If at All.
What was Promised – May 2012

There was much time and energy dedicated to pass Colorado HB-12-1361.  The intent of the bill was to provide a quick path for victims to file claims with the Colorado State Claims Board and if not satisfied, then have the option of pursuing more expensive litigation.  This would allow for fast claims payment with a minimum of legal fees burdening the victims.

Listen to the promises made to the Victims in the words of the of the Governor & Legislators describing what the bill promised to do for the Victims:

  • How soon with this take effect? – “immediately upon my signature”
  • How soon could these Victims be getting money? – “They present their claim to the Claim Board, It’s Happening in Real Time”.

 

Promises Broken – August – 2012

Colorado Deputy AG, David Blake tells Homeowners their Claims have now been Joined to the Insurance Companies Lawsuit resulting in a lengthy, and expensive litigation that has to run it course before any Victim Claims can be heard by the Colorado State Board of Claims as Promised when HB-12-1361 was passed.  This was an intentional act by the Attorney General of Colorado, John Suthers, that effectively ignores and makes null much of the intent of HB-12-1361.

  • The Process Will Not be Quick
  • We have Joined your Claims to the Insurance Companies Litigation
  • That Litigation has to run its course and the 600K cap must first be exhausted before the State Claims Board can hear the Victims Claims.
  • I cannot speak to the intent of the legislation.

Deputy AG Blake – “The Process will not be Quick”

Rep. Gerou asks Deputy AG Blake why the State is Ignoring the Intent of HB-12-1361

 

 

John Suthers – Colorado AG lied to victims and does nothing but throw roadblock in their path to claims – March – 2012

 

Attorney General’s Office presents new hurdle keeping Lower North Fork Fire claims from swift review

 

Marshall Zelinger  – Denver 7 News – goo.gl/oKRD5

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. – Lower North Fork Fire victims received a surprise in Jefferson County District Court on Friday afternoon.

Attorneys representing the Attorney General’s Office presented a plan that would allow some victims to have their claims heard through a state claims board process, while other claims would still have to go through the judicial process in court.

This played out in a courtroom exactly one year after the Colorado State Forest Service ignited a prescribed burn that four days later would escape its intended boundaries. On March 26, 2012, the Lower North Fork Fire destroyed 4,140 acres, 22 homes and killed three people.


In a joint news conference in May, Governor John Hickenlooper, Attorney General John Suthers and both legislative houses announced a compromise that would allow Lower North Fork Fire victims a chance to avoid court and have their full claims heard by a state claims board on which Suthers sits.

“How soon would this take effect and how soon could these victims be getting money?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger at that May news conference.

“It takes effect, immediately right? Upon my signature, it takes effect. They prepare or present their claims to the claims board; it’s happening in real time,” said Hickenlooper.

The Governor was assisted in his answer by Suthers and then-Senate President Brandon Shaffer.

Nearly one year to the date of the fire, the victims have not been allowed to go through the claims board process. They are stuck in court, despite being told they could avoid that process.

In February, 7NEWS asked the Attorney General’s Office why the victims are being forced to go through a court process.

We found out that once the insurance companies sued the state, seeking restitution for claims it had paid out, the victims’ claims were bundled into the court process. The victims must now wait for the judicial process to play out before any additional claims can be heard by the legislative claims board.

In court on Friday, the Attorney General’s Office presented three options for victims:

1. Claimants with documented economic loses can present their claims to the state claims board and then have those recommendations considered by the state legislature for final approval.

2. Claimants with non-economic loses can have their claims considered by a four-judge “judicial arbiter group” which would review the claims and consider compensation to be approved by a judge through the court process.

3. Claimants with non-economic loses and “exotic claims,” such as civil rights and inverse condemnation claims, will have to go to litigation and not be allowed to have their claims heard by the state claims board.

“I’d like to tell the Attorney General how disgusted I am at the incredible display of chicanery that we saw in the courtroom today,” said Lower North Fork Fire survivor Tom Scanlan.

“How does it feel to be back here in the courtroom? Disgusting. It does. I can’t believe that this isn’t behind us yet,” said Lower North Fork Fire survivor Kim Olson.

The attorneys in the court equaled the number of survivors watching the proceedings. There were attorneys representing the victims, various insurance companies and Intermountain Rural Electric Association.

“We are now nearly one year after the fire and not a dime has been paid to my clients, and we are still stuck on square one because of bureaucratic red tape posed to us by the Attorneys General,” said Tom Henderson, an attorney representing a number of the victims. “This is anything but real-time compensation.”

The defendants include the state of Colorado, the Colorado State Forest Service and three individuals who were directly involved with the prescribed burn that led to the Lower North Fork Fire. The defendants were represented by nearly a dozen attorneys.

“We’re now a year out (and) this legislative session recesses in early May. How in the world can my people get compensation in that amount of time, even if it’s not full compensation? They can, perhaps, get some compensation by the time legislature recesses,” said Henderson. “If that legislature recesses and my clients don’t have fair compensation, we’re now eight more months down the road until January of 2014, before the legislature is back in session.”

Scott Appel, whose wife Ann was killed in the fire, wants to know why no one has been held accountable nearly one year later.

“I guess I’d ask the question, ‘why would the state not hold itself to the same time standard they would hold any private party to or any insurance company?'” said Appel. “It’s a joke and not a good one.”

Since late February, 7NEWS has made multiple requests to interview Suthers regarding the process that the Lower North Fork Fire victims are going through. On March 14, Suthers’ spokeswoman scheduled an interview time for March 21. Early that morning, the interview was abruptly canceled. 7NEWS was told it was because of security concerns. On Friday, the spokeswoman told 7NEWS it was because Suthers had a change in his schedule.

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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 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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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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Jeffco Fire Burns 4,140 Acres, 15% Containment

Jeffco Fire Burns 4,140 Acres, 15% Containment

27 Homes Burned In Lower North Fork Fire

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — New mapping shows a fire in Jefferson County has burned 4,140 acres and destroyed 27 homes.

Officials with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office began taking people who lost their homes into the burn area to see the damage on Wednesday.

Almost all the homeowners whose homes have been destroyed have been notified. Deputies are hoping to reach the other half, said Jacki Kelley, public information officer for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

“We have had a good day,” said Jacki Kelley, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office PIO. “We have cut fire lines we have started to establish a perimeter.”

Firefighters had managed to gain 15 percent containment by Wednesday afternoon. The estimated size of the fire line that must be built to fully contain the fire is 8.5 miles long.

Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink said full containment might not come until Monday.

Kelley said three tankers were flying on Wednesday along with four helicopters. The tankers were dropping retardant to slow the fire and the helicopters will be dropping water to put the fire out.

Kelley said 4,100 gallons of retardant had been dropped on the fire. Helicopters have dropped 49,000 gallons of water on the fire.

The largest air tankers have been pulled from the fire and Fin order to respond to two fires near Custer and Keystone, South Dakota. The smaller single-engine air tanker that has been assigned to the Jefferson County fire will continue to be available.

Woman Missing, 2 People Killed

Kelley said searchers have been looking for a woman reported missing in the fire. On Wednesday, 32 searchers with six dogs started at the woman’s home and then fan out from there.

The woman has not been identified but officials said she lives within the burn zone. They have searched 60 acres around her home for any sign of her.

“We’re not certain,” said Kelley. “We’re looking beyond the home to determine if she ran from the fire. We’re also digging in the home rubble in an effort to find her remains.”

The two people who died in the fire were identified Tuesday as Sam Lucas, 77, and Linda Lucas, 76. The husband and wife were found at their burned-out home at 14409 Eagle Vista Drive, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

A neighbor of the couple, Eddie Schneider, said he doesn’t think the Lucases got the automated evacuation call because he didn’t get one either, unless it came after a firefighter came to his house and told him to leave.

Kelley said she wasn’t aware of residents’ assertions about having no warning, until the assertions were raised at a news conference Wednesday.

900 Homes Evacuated, 6,500 Homes On Standby To Evacuate

Mandatory evacuation notices went to 900 homes on Monday. Those families are still evacuated and officials said Tuesday they could be out of their homes for days.

“We have not allowed anybody who was evacuated back in other than the homeowners whose homes were damaged,” Kelley said. She said anyone who hasn’t been contacted by the sheriff’s office should be aware their home was not burned.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office also alerted an additional 6,500 homes on Tuesday to be prepared to evacuate because of the erratic nature of the fire. That pre-evacuation notice remained in place on Wednesday.

The affected homes on standby for evacuation are north of the existing evacuation area. The pre-evacuation areas include:

  • Deer Creek Mesa
  • Deer Creek Canyon Park
  • Homewood Park
  • Hilldale Pines
  • South Murphy Gulch Road
  • Watson Gulch Road
  • southeast of South Turkey Creek Road
  • White Deer Valley
  • Jennings Road

“We want those 6,500 people to be ready to go,” said Kelley.

She said officials still don’t know when current evacuees will be allowed to return to their homes.

“Depending upon how much progress we make over the next couple of days,” Kelley said. “Maybe we’ll have good news tomorrow. No promises.”

Sheriff Mink later told 7NEWS evacuees might be able to return on Friday, weather conditions permitting.

“What I don’t want to do is give false promises or false hope,” Kelley said. “We know people are anxious to go home.”

The Type 1 Incident Management Team has arrived. The official transition from the Jefferson County type 3 IMT to the type 1 IMT will take place at 6 a.m. Thursday. The type 3 IMT team will continue to work with the Type 1 team after the transition, officials said.

How The Fire Started

On Tuesday, the Colorado State Forest Service admitted to 7NEWS that the Lower North Fork Fire started as a result of a prescribed burn it was conducting late last week.

“Did the Colorado State Forest Service cause the Lower North Fork Fire?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

“I think the answer to that is the embers came from within the prescribed burn that we conducted,” said Deputy State Forester Joe Duda.

He also addressed reporters at the 4 p.m. media briefing in Conifer.

“We have to look at whether anything went wrong.”

Prescribed burn group was working within working parameters for prescribed burns.

“The area where we saw the embers and the fire crossed the road we had previous patrols in that area and saw no signs of fire in the area.”

He said the Colorado Forest Service had twice the resources that were necessary on the fire.

“We started on last Wednesday and we continued the patrol through to Monday when the wildfire initiated,” he said.

“Our heartfelt sorrow goes to anybody who lost loved ones.”

Last Wednesday, the Colorado Forest Service initiated a prescribed burn on Denver Water Board property. The purpose was to reduce woody fuel from past forest restoration activity.

On Thursday, the Forest Service conducted the main burn of 35 acres.

“On Thursday, the weather conditions, the forecast, all the parameters that are necessary to operate under, looked good so we conducted the prescribed burn,” said Duda.

On Friday, the Forest Service sent crews out to complete mop up and patrol the perimeter.

Those patrols continued through the weekend and on Monday.

On Monday, a fire reignited in the prescribed-burn area.

“In an area, it’s my understanding, where we had patrolled earlier, we noticed that there was some fresh fire activity burning within the containment line,” said Duda. “As the crew moved up to take action, that fire crossed the road into the uncontained area.”

Duda said the crew was in a fire truck and requested additional help.

7NEWS asked the Colorado Forest Service how far in advance are the weather forecasts looked at and what was the weather forecast showing for this prescribed burn?

“Weather forecasts are looked at weeks, even months in advance to find just the right time to do a burn, ,” said Outreach Forester Lisa Mason. “Weather is constantly monitored weeks before the burn. In addition to looking at forecasts, a Remote Automated Weather Station was set up on the day of the burn at the site. Weather reports are given every 15 minutes. In the attachment, you will find the spot weather forecasts for the day of the prescribed burn. Also, note that there were no Red Flags warnings in effect when burning.”

State Liable Only Up To $600,000

Under state law, the Colorado Governmental Immunity Law protects the state and taxpayers from expensive liability. If the state is found to be responsible for the fire, it would only be liable to pay a maximum of $600,000 total for all victims to split. No one person could get more than $150,000.

“For anyone and any claim, for loss of life, loss of property, damage, injury, loss of use, even the cost of fighting the fire, the total amount the state would have to pay capped by law is $600,000,” said attorney Jim Chalat. “The check that would be written would be $600,000. That wouldn’t come anywhere close to paying for the damages.”

 


View Lower North Fork Fire in a larger map. (Red line: burn zone: Blue line: Mandatory evacuation. Yellow line: Pre-evacuation area..




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