JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Finger pointing, covering up and not accepting responsibility. That’s what some of the key homeowners, who lost everything, are saying about the Lower North Fork Fire.
They also say they want the truth to come out.
Andy Hoover is the grandson of President Herbert Hoover and a well known member of the community hit hardest by the fire last month.
Hoover says he, the family of Ann Appel and others are not happy with the way different agencies seem to be passing the blame.
The fire killed his neighbors Sam and Moaneti Lucas and Ann Appel.
“Ann was a close friend and I mean she’s gone,” Hoover says.
He’d talked to all three neighbors in their final hour as the fire moved up the hill.
Now as recordings of 911 emergency calls and radio dispatch tapes are released, Hoover says he and Ann Appel’s husband Scott are fighting to bring out the truth…about what really happened.
“No one from the fire department came up or knocked at the door so that I could hear it and I did answer the door for some people,” Hoover says.
They are questioning the veracity of some accounts leading up to the fire.
“There was poor judgment in starting that controlled burn and controlling it. I can say for the record that it was never extinguished.”
They’re also questioning accounts of what followed.
“They have been saying things that are flatly untrue. People who are making up stories to make themselves look good… I hope are going to be thoroughly embarrassed when we’re done. And there’s a lot of that going on,” Hoover says.
Hoover lost everything, including historic treasures. “My grandfather was the president of the United States. When I built that house I tried to build it so it wouldn’t burn because you can’t insure that stuff,” he says.
But now that it’s gone, he says no officials have contacted him for his account.
They find it unbelievable that state liability is limited to $600,000 dollars.
“Scott [Appel] has suffered a huge loss and it’s hit him hard and it’s going to take some time to heal that loss.”
Hoover says he believes the timelines of what happened will eventually prove that the truth lies somewhere outside of what is being said publicly right now.
A public memorial for Ann Appel will be held this Saturday at 10 a.m. at West Bowles Community Church.
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4,140 Acres Burned, Fire Still 15% Contained
As of 7 a.m., the Lower North Fork Fire is only 15 percent contained. It has burned close to 4,100 acres.
Thursday, the firefighters’ goal was to expand containment before the arrival of higher temperatures and winds forecast for the weekend. Full containment is not expected until possibly Monday.
More than 500 firefighters and several air crews are working the fire and went back to the fire line at 7:30 a.m., said Dan Hatlestad, spokesman for the Jefferson County Incident Management Team.
“We need to get ahead of this fire today and tomorrow in anticipation of the heat and wind,” Hatlestad said. “We’re expecting to build through the balance of the week. That’s why we have so many firefighters on scene to attack this fire and suppress it before we see erratic conditions again.”
Two planes that drop fire retardant were diverted to a fire in South Dakota, but four Blackhawks from the Colorado Air National Guard were still dropping water on the blaze.
The Colorado State Forest Service said the fire started from a controlled burn last week that was meant to reduce vegetation. Instead, high wind gusts Monday blew embers across a containment line and into unburned forest, sparking the blaze.
There is still no estimate as to when families from the 900 homes evacuated because of the fire will be able to return to their homes. Hatlestad said firefighters would work on getting families back to their homes “as soon as possible” but could not give a specific timeline.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has allowed homeowners to visit homes that were damaged or destroyed by the fire. They were given about 30 minutes to tour their homes on Thursday.
A search team will continue the search for a woman missing in the fire zone. Her home was among those destroyed or damaged in the blaze. Hatlestad said the search team covered 60 acres Wednesday.
The woman has not been identified. A spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department said it is not known if the woman ran from the fire or tried to take shelter in her home.
A neighbor of the couple found dead said he was unsure whether 77-year-old Sam Lamar Lucas and 76-year-old Linda M. Lucas received an automated call telling them to leave. Eddie Schneider fled after a firefighter knocked on his door.
Hickenlooper To Meet With Victims
Hickenlooper will meet with evacuated families and those that lost homes Thursday morning. He will also tour the burn zone by helicopter.
On Wednesday Hickenlooper suspended the use of state prescribed burns until a review of the wildfire is complete.
The ban doesn’t affect land controlled by the federal government — which accounts for more than one-third of Colorado. However, Hickenlooper urged counties and federal agencies to also consider suspending such burns for now.
Hickenlooper said he doesn’t blame some of the 900 evacuated homeowners in the mountains southwest of Denver for being angry.
“It’s horrendous,” Hickenlooper said. “This is one of the most devastating fires that we’ve had in recent history.”
Conifer resident Don Heiden, who was displaced by the fire, said he wasn’t ready to blame the government.
“Accidents happen. If there was negligence, they’ll figure it out,” said Heiden, who was watching televised aerial shots to see if his home was still standing. “To me, it’s more of an act of God.”
For years, fire agencies have used controlled burns to preempt devastating wildfires by consuming fuel. Officials credited such an operation with helping save hundreds of homes during a 2002 Colorado wildfire that did destroy 133 homes.
The fire threat in much of Colorado has grown during an unusually dry and warm March. Several counties, including Jefferson, have implemented fire restrictions affecting campfires, fireworks and smoking in fire-prone areas.
View Lower North Fork Fire in a larger map.
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