Fire Chief Calls For Wildfire Response Overhaul

Elk Creek Fire Chief Shares Concerns With Lower North Fork Fire Commission

The Lower North Fork Fire killed three people, burned more than 4,000 acres and destroyed 23 homes. It started as a prescribed burn ignited by the Colorado State Forest service. The fire escaped and was carried by high winds. Damage from the fire is estimated to be $11 million.

Following a 7NEWS 30-minute investigation in May entitled, "Investigating The Fire," Colorado lawmakers passed two bills related to the fire.

One bill allowed victims of the fire to file claims with the state and potentially receive more than the state's capped compensation limits allow. Residents have until Sept. 22 to file a claim with the state.

A second bill created a five-member legislative commission to investigate what went wrong when a controlled burn conducted by state firefighters reignited and raged out of control. The commission is supposed to come up with policies to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Elk Creek Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin spoke to the Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission members Wednesday about communication and mobilization problems he witnessed during the Lower North Fork Fire in March. McLaughlin also brought up issues with the High Park Wildfire in June when his firefighters were dispatched fight a small wildfire in Wyoming instead.

"We drove right past the High Park Fire despite the fact that at that time they were dispatching engines from California and Idaho to go to that fire. So, obviously we’ve got issues at how we get resources to major events in this state," said McLaughlin.

Conifer resident Mary Ann Ellis attended the commission session Wednesday because she said that she wants to see change.

"We would like to see them take more rapid action about this before more fires happen and more neighbors are killed. We needed rapid action and we didn’t get it. And my friends died and my community is in shatters," said Ellis.

Ellis said she barely escaped the Lower North Fork fire.

"When we left our house when it was burning, we didn’t see a lot of fire trucks coming because of the lack of coordination. We’re not blaming the fire department. There’s just a system in place that made it almost impossible for them to work," said Ellis.

Ellis pointed out that the Lower North Fork community has been working to recover and rebuild, without any help from the agency that started the prescribed burn that escaped, the Colorado State Forest Service.

"They made a statement right after the fire and they said that they were sorry, and I’ve never heard from them since. I’m sure they’re not as sorry as we are. So, we’re waiting for them to step up to the plate because they made this mess. They caused it. They should be out here cutting trees and helping us reclaim the land," said Ellis.

The Lower North Fork Fire Commission has until Oct. 1 to move any drafted legislation for changes out of the committee.

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