Gov. John Hickenlooper signed two bills on Monday afternoon that will provide victims of the state-caused Lower North Fork fire ways to seek more compensation.
The governor signed sign House Bill 12-1352 and House Bill 12-1361.
The first bill, House Bill 12-1352, creates a commission made up of lawmakers to investigate the Lower North Fork Fire. The second bill, House Bill 12-1361, retroactively adds state-set wildfires to the list of state immunity exemptions. The change will give victims of the Lower North Fork Fire the chance to seek state compensation beyond a $600,000 liability cap.
"A series of mishandlings by the state left people homeless and grieving for their loved ones," said Gardner, a Republican from Colorado Springs who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. "Im thankful we were able work for a solution and provide those victims with some form of redress."
"I lost my wife, my home and nearly everything we had worked our entire lives for in the fire -- the devastation is hard to comprehend," said Scott Appel, a victim of the Lower North Fork wildfire whose wife, Ann, died in the fire. "Acknowledging responsibility for this tragedy is the right thing for the state of Colorado to do. My neighbors and I are really hoping for fair and quick process for restitution so we can start to put our lives back together."
The compensation plan was announced at the Capitol less than 24 hours after 7NEWS initially aired a 30-minute special, "Investigating the Fire" last month.
"I watched the special last night on channel 7 and it brought everything back," said State Sen. Bill Cadman, Senate Minority Leader. "It was obvious Colorado made an error, an unforgivable error that will forever change the lives of these people."
Victims of the Lower North Fork Fire spoke with 7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost after the bills were signed into law.
"If channel 7 hadn't pushed it I don't think it would've happened. I really don't," said fire victim, Peggy Henke.
"Thank you to you and Marshall. (Zelinger) We're all grateful for the investigation, for the report," said Scott Appel.
The March wildfire in the foothills southwest of Denver killed three people and damaged two dozen houses, causing at least $11 million in property damage. It started when a prescribed burn on state forest land flared up a few days after it appeared to be extinguished.
Notice Of Intent To Sue
Eight notice of intent to sue claims have been filed against the state of Colorado.
Under Colorado law, a "notice of claim" is a required first step toward a lawsuit against a government agency.
The claims by a homeowners insurance company and an electrical utility were filed against Colorado State University, which oversees the Colorado State Forest Service.
The Forest Service has been the focus of criticism, because it conducted a prescribed burn in the Jefferson County foothills on March 22 that erupted four days later into the wildfire when high winds reignited embers.
Claim notices were also served on Denver Water, on whose property the controlled burn was conducted under an agreement with the Forest Service.
Statement From Kuehster Road Community, Victims Of Lower North Fork Fire
Two months ago, a wildfire resulting from a prescribed burn set by the Colorado State Forest Service burned twenty-three homes to the ground and tragically killed three of our neighbors. The so-called 'controlled burn' quickly flared out of control and within hours, it had destroyed everything our families had built up over a lifetime. The destruction of our homes and properties pales in comparison to the loss of Sam and Linda Lucas and Ann Appel. Their deaths and the devastation caused by the fire were horrific, completely unnecessary and totally avoidable.
"We are grateful to Governor Hickenlooper and the State Legislature for acting to amend the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act to include a waiver for prescribed burns. But it needs to be recognized by all that the signing of this bill is only an important first step toward the State taking full responsibility and making quick restitution to help us put our lives back together. "This legislation makes no promises of justice to the fire victims. It says only what th State can do, but does not say what the State will do. We thank the Governor and our elected leaders for taking the first step toward quick and just resolution of this unnecessary tragedy. The Governor has personally promised us that this process will not get bogged down in partisan politics and we trust that he can prevent this.
"Coloradoans understand fairness, and what it means to correct a horrible injustice. We sincerely appreciate the outpouring of sympathy from our fellow citizens, who are closely watching howthe State handles this man-made disaster."
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