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.

Wildfire briefing, March 27, 2013

25,000 acres burned in Mexican wildfires

According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, about 25,000 acres burned last week in the Huasteca Potosina region in the north-central Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. Two people were identified as suspects for starting a fire near the town of Lagunillas. One person died in one of the fires, which have been fought by 600 firefighters.

USFS says naturally occurring asbestos was not a problem on the Chips Fire

The U.S. Forest Service conducted extensive tests of naturally occurring asbestos on the Chips Fire that burned over 75,000 acres on the Plumas/Lassen National Forest last August. The results indicated that firefighters were not exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos particles and confirmed that there is no need to wear high-efficiency particulate air respirators in the area. During suppression activities a Safety Officer, worried that dust might contain asbestos, had raised the issue of firefighter safety in areas where fireline was being constructed by crews and dozers.

Victims of Colorado’s Lower North Fork Fire have filed 95 claims against the government

At least 95 claims have been filed against government agencies in Colorado following the Lower North Fork Fire, a state-run prescribed fire that escaped March 26, 2012, killed three local residents at their homes and burned 27 structures. An article in the Denver Post quotes a local resident who said two previous prescribed fires in the area also escaped or reignited before the state ignited the Lower North Fork project.

Volunteer firefighter charged with arson

Nathaniel Ridgway Schmidt, a former volunteer firefighter with the Timber Cove Fire Protection District in Sonoma County, California, has been charged with setting five fires in Sonoma and San Mateo Counties.

One of the cases occurred on a prescribed fire when Mr. Schmidt was tasked with patrolling a section of fireline. Here is an excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle:

…A half-hour later, Schmidt yelled that the fire was out of control, but investigators determined he had set a new quarter-acre blaze, [District Attorney Steve] Wagstaffe said. He said authorities believe Schmidt, who has no prior criminal record, set the fires “for excitement.”

The San Mateo County fire happened eight days after the first two of four fires allegedly set by Schmidt in Sonoma County. Prosecutors there charged Schmidt with four felony counts of arson and five misdemeanor counts of falsely reporting emergencies, including a car going over a cliff.


Thanks go out to Dick, Chuck, and Kelly.

Colorado: Jefferson County hopes to correct notification problems discovered during Lower North Fork Fire

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

On March 26, 2012 the Lower North Fork Prescribed Fire escaped and began roaring across the landscape southwest of Denver. Jefferson County utilized their reverse 911 system configured to make automated phone calls to a designated area, expecting that the residents would be notified to evacuate. Ann Appel, 51, along with 94 other residents, did not receive the call due to a glitch in the system.

Her remains were later found in the ashes of her home.

Two other people, Sam and Linda Lucas, were also killed but it is believed they received the evacuation phone call.

The notification system that failed was supplied by Louisiana-based FirstCall. Jefferson County Emergency Communications Authority has replaced it with the CodeRed service operated by Florida-based Emergency Communications Network.

They have already used the CodeRed system on two actual emergencies recently, but planned to conduct a more extensive test Wednesday, hoping to contact an estimated 330,000 to 360,000 phones.


Another report about Lower North Fork Fire offers recommendations

Lower North Fork Fire
Lower North Fork Fire. Photo provided by Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office

A special commission created by the Colorado General Assembly to investigate the Lower North Fork fire has released their report. The fire originated from an escaped prescribed fire southwest of Denver on March 26, 2012. It burned 4,140 acres and killed three local residents at their homes. The report offers a number of recommendations but did not place blame.

This is the second report about the fire. The first, released in April, 2012, was conducted by Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources. That 152-page report (a very large 11.8 MB file) only addressed the management of the prescribed fire, and did not cover the suppression of the wildfire, the three fatalities, or the controversial evacuation procedures during the wildfire.

The charter of the commission  which produced the second report was to investigate the following:

  • causes of the wildfire;
  • the impact of the wildfire on the affected community;
  • the loss of life and financial devastation incurred by the community;
  • the loss of confidence by the community in the response to the emergency by
  • governmental bodies at all levels; and
  • measures to prevent the occurrence of a similar tragedy

Their recommendations were on the following topics:

  1. Coordination among fire districts
  2. Raising the liability cap
  3. Wildland-urban interface and local land use egulations
  4. Funding for the federal FLAME Act (which is not fully funded by Congress)
  5. 911 capabilities
  6. A consistent revenue source for wildfire suppression
  7. Air emission permits
  8. Funding for the SWIFT Program

The Commission also recommends that four bills be introduced in the Colorado General Assembly:

  • Prescribed Burn Program in the Division of Fire Prevention and Control
  • Wildfire Matters Review Committee
  • Extend Wildfire Mitigation Financial Incentives
  • All-hazards Resource Mobilization and Reimbursement

You can read the entire report HERE.


Thanks go out to Gary

Residents with claims against state for escaped Rx fire won’t be compensated anytime soon

Residents of Jefferson County southwest of Denver learned tonight that they won’t be receiving compensation from the state for their claims of damage by the Lower North Fork Fire back in March. The fire, a prescribed fire by Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) personnel, got away from them and blazed over a couple of ridges, killed three people, burned a couple dozen homes, and caused $11 million in damage.

ABC7 News reported that residents’ claims will be postponed until an insurance company lawsuit is settled. Back in April, an insurance company and a utility company filed “notice of claims” against the state. But Deputy Attorney General David Blake says compensation, if any, is a long ways off — because of the pending lawsuit by the insurance companies, the state claims board can’t yet address residents’ claims for compensation.

“Realistically, we’re talking about many months, if not over years,” Sen. Ellen Roberts told the Denver Post.

The prescribed fire was ignited on March 22 by the CSFS on property belonging to the Denver Water Department. They completed the burn on the same day; firefighters mopped up the next day and patrolled the area for two more days. But on the next day, a cold front passed through with gusts over 50 mph. The fire re-ignited and took off, crowning and heading northeast onto private lands. Local firefighters immediately responded to the wildfire, but were unable to contain it. It was contained about 10 days later on April 2 by Rich Harvey’s Type 1 team … in 22-degree weather and snow.

Lower North Fork FireLegislators passed new laws after the fire, creating a five-member legislative commission to investigate what happened when the fire took off, along with companion legislation that allows residents to file claims with the state for compensation. The Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission members visited the fire area, led by Elk Creek Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin. His department was one of three VFDs that responded to the fire.

McLaughlin explained how the fire went wrong. Firefighters had specified a trigger point, and decided that if the fire crossed that point, residents two miles away would be evacuated. They were supposed to have a good two hours to get out, but the fire ripped up the ridge in just 12 minutes. McLaughlin said 6-foot flames turned into 40-foot flames and then to 100-foot flames as the fire roared over the hill.

The state enacted an indefinite ban on prescribed fires after the 4,100-acre Lower North Fork Fire was contained.

State Rep. Claire Levy, a member of the investigative commission, said people will want the commission to find blame. “I think we need to work on preparing people who do choose to live in high wildfire areas to deal with that,” she said, “and recognize the risk to loss of life and property is very high and that is something they are knowingly taking on and the state cannot protect them.”

Report released for Colorado’s Lower North Fork escaped prescribed fire

Lower North Fork Fire prescribed fire reportColorado’s Department of Natural Resources has released the official review of the Lower North Fork prescribed fire southwest of Denver which escaped on March 26, 2012, destroyed 22 homes, burned 4,140 acres, and killed three local residents at their homes. The 152-page report (a very large 11.8 MB file) only addresses the management of the prescribed fire, and does not cover the suppression of the wildfire, the three fatalities, or the controversial evacuation procedures during the wildfire.

Lower North Fork Fire prescribed fire report mapAfter reading much of the report, which includes a great deal of boiler-plate information not directly related to the escaped prescribed fire, I was able to summarize some of the important points:
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