Lower North Fork Wildfire Investigation

Despite an “Independent Investigation” commissioned by the Governor and a separate Legislative Commission created to “investigate the causes of the LNFF to prevent the occurrence of a similar tragedy”, the State has not even reviewed their own documentation of the events that occurred and there have been NO substantive recommendations by any State agency to correct the glaring deficiencies in the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) prescribed burn procedures nor the undisciplined and unpardonable actions of the people responsible for the travesty.  Despite our own tragic losses and enduring a continuing 6 month battle with the State to obtain assistance to begin the restoration of our properties and our lives, the Kuehster Road Homeowners obtained and reviewed the public documentation of the Wildfire and developed essential recommendations to protect our friends and neighbors in the Mountain Community.  Unfortunately, our report and recommendations have been ignored by the very bodies set up by the State to investigate the tragedy and to protect other Citizens of Colorado from being victimized by the State’s complacency in starting and controlling Prescribed Burns.

All of the following observations of the Homeowners’ investigation were facts taken directly from the State’s public documentation of the Wildfire: there is no conjecture on our part.

  • There was no single cause of the Wildfire, it was a result of numerous errors of omission or commission by the responsible agents of the CSFS.
  • There was a blatant disregard of the ongoing drought and predicted deteriorating weather conditions despite evaluation requirements in the CSFS burn checklists.
  • No substantive changes were made to the CSFS burn plan as a result of a previous fire escapement in the same location 6 months prior.
  • There was NO defined contingency plan to protect homes in the local area despite CSFS recognition of unpredictable winds in the area and steep terrain inaccessible to fire vehicles.
  • CSFS personnel ignored their own procedures to maintain surveillance of the fire for a minimum of three days and ignored reports of local residents about significant fire activity in the area and cancelled a NF fire vehicle responding to those reports.
  • CSFS personnel did not maintain required water reserves on site as required by their procedures.
  • There was incorrect routing of automated Reverse 911 notifications and no assured call-back to residents who had been told “it is only a controlled burn”.

Based on our investigation the Kuehster Road Homeowners recommended the following proposed legislation to protect other Mountain Community homeowners from suffering a similar fate.  These recommendations were disregarded by the LNFWF Commission.

Require the Dept of Public Safety to develop a Corrective Action Plan that is directive for all future prescribed burns in the State; the plan must include but not be limited to the requirement that a public, detailed burn plan be completed by the originating agency and concurred with by all local fire departments potentially affected, and by the Dept of Public Safety.  The plan must include notification to the affected community and include a public hearing describing the plan.  The plan must include an evaluation of alternative mitigation measures and a detailed rationale for initiating a burn.  It must further specifically address procedures for evaluating weather conditions and include specific go/no go criteria.  A justification for every risk rating (including Low) must be included in the plan and every Moderate or High Risk rating must include specific mitigation/contingency actions.  The plan must also include specific contingency plans in the event of an escape of the fire, and specific criteria for a single chain of command in the event of such an escape.  No waivers will be allowed to critical burn criteria in the plan.  There must also be an independent review of the plan by a separate but knowledgeable agency and of any changes to the plan.  The Dept of Public Safety should be required to present its Corrective Action Plan to the Commission/Legislature within 180 days of the legislation.

Require standardization of the Emergency Notification System at the State Level and recommend that legislation be proposed to require that any escape of a prescribed burn that breeches planned trigger points require an immediate “callback” to previous callers and that an operational system test be conducted of any automated Emergency Response Systems to include periodic retests.

What can you do about this travesty and protect your friends and families in the future?  GET INVOLVED NOW, CONTACT YOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND YOUR STATE REPRESENTATIVES AND MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!!

Click here to email Gov. Hickenlooper via his Chief of Staff.

Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission:

Senator Ellen Roberts

Representative Cheri Gerou

Senator Jeanne Nicholson

Representative Claire Levy

James Davis, Director, Colorado Dept. of Public Safety

Bo Pogue, Legislative Council Staff

Presentation by Fire Victims to Lower North Fork Fire Commission

Conifer High School August 13, 2012


Video of Full Hearing

Credit – 285 Bound