State Senate committee approves $17.6 million payment for Lower North Fork Fire victims

DENVER - A State Senate committee has approved a last-minute effort to pay Lower North Fork Fire victims the full amount recommended by an independent panel.

"We want to provide some aspect of closure of these 19 families," State Senator Jeanne Nicholson said at the start of a committee on the payment. "They should not have to wait until January."

Three victims of the fire testified Friday morning at the committee, including Sam Lucas whose parents were killed in the fire.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill seven to zero. The bill now goes to the full Senate.

The March 2012 fire, which started as a prescribed burn by the State Forest Service, destroyed more than 4,000 acres, 22 homes, and claimed three lives.

Earlier this month, the state claims board announced it was willing to pay victims $11 million -- over seven million less than an independent panel had recommended. The victims had agreed in court to work with the panel to determine the value of their losses not covered by insurance.

After hearing the offer from the claims board, the victims returned to court and asked the judge to order the independent panel recommendations be forwarded to the state legislature to be approved for payment.

The state Joint Budget Committee has already set aside $11 million to pay victims. After hearing the testimony Friday morning, the committee began to discuss where the additional funding could come from to reach a total of $17.6 million.

The bill must pass through the entire Senate next. Then the bill goes to a committee and to the full House for a vote, before potentially ending up on the Governor's desk.

The bill allows victims to be paid no later than Sept. 1.

"They will never be made whole," said State Senator Bill Cadman. "Their path to healing has no end."

For a bill to pass through the legislative process, it needs at least three days. The last day of this legislative session is May 7.

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