Victims of escaped prescribed fire in Colorado receiving settlement checks

Ann Appel

Ann Appel, killed in her home during the Lower North Fork Fire. Photo courtesy of the Appel family.

More than two years after the Lower North Fork prescribed fire escaped southwest of Denver and destroyed 22 homes, burned 4,140 acres, and killed three local residents at their homes, compensation payments have been mailed to the people impacted by the disaster. After it was revealed that Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources violated their own policies while conducting the prescribed fire, state lawmakers changed the immunity law which had capped their liability at $600,000. According to Denver’s Channel 7:

The largest settlement, $4,779,480, went to Scott Appel and the estate of his wife, Ann Appel [who was killed in the fire]. She told her husband she was ready to leave, but the Appel household never got a reverse notification about evacuations and neighbors told Scott Appel that by the time the call went out, they believe the Appel property was on fire. The family of Sam and Linda Lucas [who were also killed] were allotted $1,306,895.

The total compensation for all of the people affected by the fire was $18.1 million.

We covered the release of the report about the disaster in April of 2012.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Ryan.


Northwest Colorado wildfire burns 20,000 acres

The Alkali fire in northwestern Colorado rapidly burned 20,000 acres in less than 24 hours as of Thursday, and remains the only sizable wildfire to hit the state this fire season.

The fire was discovered north of Maybell around 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 9News in Denver reported. The cause remains under investigation. Thus far, the fire has not prompted mass evacuations, but it has destroyed a part-time home and barn and killed three cattle.

It’s been a remarkably quiet fire year for Colorado following two back-to-back years of devastating wildfires in the state. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire burned 347 homes in western Colorado Springs, while the Lower North Fork and the High Park fires in Northern Colorado burned hundreds of homes and thousands of acres.

The destruction of that summer was only surpassed by the Black Forest fire in 2013, which destroyed 486 homes east of Colorado Springs and burned under 16,000 acres.

Like much of the west for the past decade, Colorado has been plagued by drought until this year. Torrential rains in September 2013, while killing 10 people and causing massive flood damage statewide, gave the state a much needed reprieve from tinder-dry conditions.

There are a few areas of the state that are still abnormally dry, including Moffat County, in the state’s northwestern-most corner.

U.S. Drought Monitor

U.S. Drought Monitor


South Canyon Fire, 20th year commemoration

On Sunday I attended the event at Glenwood Springs, Colorado that memorialized the 14 firefighters that died on Storm King Mountain while fighting the South Canyon Fire two decades ago.

Marsha Rogers has never been a wildland firefighter but has been friends with several of them off and on over the years. Having been at the commemoration on Sunday she was kind enough to share her impressions from the standpoint of a wildfire outsider who has a passing familiarity of what it is like to be a wildland firefighter.


On Sunday, July 6, the 20th Anniversary Commemoration of the South Canyon Fire was held in Glenwood Springs, CO. The event honored the 14 firefighters who lost their lives in that fire, and several speakers who addressed those in attendance reflected on the events of July 6, 1994, and how that fire has changed not only the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but changed firefighting operations.

Fellowship among firefighters was evident throughout the service, from the engine procession, to the presentation of colors, to the crews standing together with heads bowed in a moment of silence, remembering the Storm King 14.

Daniel Jiron, U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester, commented on what we have learned from the South Canyon Fire, saying the event changed what questions should be asked. Jiron said firefighting was not just a job, but a vocation, and said firefighters share “a fellowship no one would understand.”

Ralph Holtby of Prineville, Oregon, father of deceased firefighter Bonnie Holtby, initially turned down the invitation to speak, but he couldn’t sleep that night, so changed his mind. Holtby recalled July 7, 1994, when the USFS came to his door. “Twenty years have gone by,” said Holtby, “but we’re still here. We still remember.”

A smoke jumper in college, Holtby understood firefighting. “Think!” was Holtby’s advice to firefighters, encouraging them to think of the weather, the terrain, and their comrades.

He reflected on the kindness, generosity, and compassion that came from the community after the tragedy. He said people donated funds, and parents of the firefighters who died formed a committee, and wanted to build a monument to memorialize the fallen.

The statue at the memorial site in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

The statue at the memorial site in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

One monument was built at Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs, and sits near the base of Storm King Mountain. At the center of the monument is a bronze statue depicting three firefighters, and is surrounded by memorial stones for each of the 14 firefighters who lost their lives on the mountain. A split piece of granite was on display, with a plaque describing that the other half of the piece of granite was in Prineville, Oregon, home to several of the fallen firefighters.

Holtby had walked the trail up the mountain Friday morning with his wife, brother, and three grandkids – the youngest was one year old, and was carried by his 15-year-old brother. Although Holtby expressed that it’s tough to get closure, and that it still hurts, he encouraged others to adapt to what life brings, to keep on going, and try to help others. “God willing,” said Holtby, “we will go on to a better and finer day.”


Photos from the South Canyon 20th year commemoration

South Canyon Fire

These photos were taken by Bill Gabbert July 6, 2014 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado at the South Canyon Fire 20th Anniversary Commemoration.

South Canyon Fire

Boise Pipe and Drum

Boise Pipes and Drums

Honor Guards and Color Guards

Honor Guards and Color Guards on the stage.

Honor Guard and Color Guard

Honor Guards and Color Guards were at the commemoration.

The Prineville Hotshots

The Prineville Hotshots.

streamers smoke jumpers

A smokejumper aircraft dropped streamers, presumably 14 of them, near the end of the commemoration.

Kari Greer

Kari Greer, a well-known photographer of wildland fires, with her fireline tools.


A Week to Remember

Week to remember

In addition to remembering the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who were killed a year ago today, this Week to Remember will include a commemoration to honor the 14 firefighters who died 20 years ago, July 6, 1994, on Storm King Mountain while fighting the South Canyon Fire.

The public is invited to the event for the South Canyon Fire which will be on July 6 from 4:45 p.m. until 6 p.m in Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Those 14 firefighters were: Kathi Beck, Tamera Bickett, Scott Blecha, Levi Brinkley, Robert Browning, Doug Dunbar, Terri Hagen, Bonnie Holtby, Rob Johnson, Jon Kelso, Don Mackey, Roger Roth, Jim Thrash, and Richard Tyler.

More information about the event in Glenwood Springs.


Colorado: Eightmile fire

(UPDATED at 11 p.m. MDT, June 29, 2014)

Map of Eightmile Fire

Map of the Eightmile Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 1 a.m. June 29. The yellow line is from about 26 hours earlier.

The Eightmile Fire was less active on Saturday than it was on Friday when it grew from about an acre to almost 500 acres. It started on Monday from a lightning strike and is being managed, rather than totally suppressed, as a confine/contain fire. Early Sunday morning a mapping flight determined that it had grown by about 29 acres over the last 26 hours, to 524 acres. The Incident Management Team is calling it 25 percent contained.

The pre-evacuation notice for the 16 residence in Red Rocks subdivision remains in effect. On Saturday aircraft dropped 140,253 gallons of water and 71,315 gallons of retardant. Firefighters are constructing fireline in one Division on the fire, and are “continuing to seek opportunities and scout areas for tactical options” on the other three.

While they are deciding what to do, the area is under a Red Flag Warning from Sunday at noon until 7 p.m. for strong winds, low relative humidity, and dry fuels. The winds should be out of the west at 10 to 20 mph with the relative humidity at 10 percent. Monday will be a little cooler, less breezy, with a 20 percent chance of rain. **** (UPDATED at 8:48 a.m. MDT, June 28, 2014)

Map of Eightmile Fire

Map of Eightmile Fire at 10:30 p.m. MDT, June 27, 2014.

The Eightmile Fire 7 miles northeast of Cañon City, Colorado was mapped Friday night at 496 acres. It started from a lighting strike on Monday, June 23 and on Friday morning was still only about one acre in size. The fire is just east of Phantom Canyon Road (67), east of Eightmile Creek, and six miles west of Highway 115. It is burning on Bureau of Land Management land primarily in a Wilderness Study Area. The BLM is not totally suppressing the fire, but instead is employing a Confine/Contain strategy. Friday night the BLM issued this evacuation advisory:

The Fremont County Sheriff, in cooperation with Eightmile Fire managers, has issued a pre-evacuation notice for 16 residences in the Red Rocks Subdivision. Specifically, the residents on the west side of County Road 132 from mile marker 5 to mile marker 9.5. Residents are encouraged to be prepared to evacuate should the need arise. Again, this is a pre-evacuation notice only.

3D Map of Eightmile Fire

3D Map of Eightmile Fire, looking East at 10:30 p.m. MDT, June 27, 2014.

Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team B with Incident Commander Dan Dallas assumed command of the Eightmile Fire at 6 a.m. MDT, Saturday, June 28. Continue reading