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 –

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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