Lower North Fork fire survivor Scott Appel is turning burned trees into renewable energy for NREL

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. - After losing everything in the Lower North Fork fire, Scott Appel wants to make a point by taking his time and energy to turn charred trees into renewable energy.

"It makes no sense at all to me, to light a match and burn up resources like we have here," said Appel.

The March 2012 fire, which started as a prescribed burn by the State Forest Service, charred and destroyed Appel's property and took the life of his wife, Ann.

Following a 7NEWS investigation into the cause and response to the fire, the state came up with more than $1 million to cut down dead trees in the burned areas.

"The oldest tree we found, we counted 177 rings, so 177 years old. One hundred-and seventy-seven years ago, when that tree was a seedling, Abe Lincoln had just moved to Springfield, got his law license the fall before and was starting a law practice," said Appel. "Abe Lincoln -- 28 years old."

7NEWS interviewed Appel at the timber yard where he is hauling and chipping the trees that the state is cutting down on his property.

"We brought 95 semi loads. We've been chipping these logs since October," said Appel.  "This pile was 450-feet long, 18-to-20 feet high, 35-feet deep. Forty-to-50 times that many logs are still out there on private land that need to come down."

Appel is taking the charred logs, putting them through a wood chipper and hauling the chips to the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden.

"This winter we've gotten 48 percent of our heat out of the wood that came out of the fire," said Frank Rukavina, sustainability program director at NREL. "We burn wood chips here for thermal heat of the building.

A semi-truck full of wood chips only produces enough heat for just more than one day.

NREL uses the wood chips, similar to the way a homeowner would use a wood-burning stove.

That's one reason Appel doesn't understand why the Lower North Fork fire prescribed burn ever happened.

"In my view, if black logs are worth money, then green logs are worth a lot more money. I don't understand why the fire ever took place," said Appel.

"It makes no sense at all to me, to light a match and burn up resources like we have here," Appel said, referring to the use of prescribed burns.

After the Lower North Fork fire, Gov. John Hickenlooper put a halt to prescribed burns.

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