House sends Colorado Prescribed Burning Act back to the State Senate

DENVER - The House has given final approval to a revised version of a bill creating new guidelines for prescribed burns in Colorado.

The rules in the bill were developed in the aftermath of a Jefferson County prescribed burn that escaped and became the deadly Lower North Fork Fire in 2012.

There were no changes added for the final vote in the House, but amendments were added for the previous vote. Therefore, the bill must now return to the Senate for reconciliation.

A previous version of the Colorado Prescribed Burning Act was approved by the State Senate in February.

If it becomes law, the Colorado Prescribed Burning Act would establish the framework to specify when controlled burns should happen and how they should be handled. Senate Bill 13-083, as it is designated, doesn't mention oversight, enforcement or responsibility if the standards are not followed.

"I think all of us that were affected by the Lower North Fork Fire are very concerned that this doesn't happen to other people," Scott Appel said in a February interview.

Appel lost his wife Ann and their home in the fire.

It started as a prescribed burn, ignited by State Forest Service fire crews. On the third day, the site was left unpatrolled in violation of the burn plan. With red flag conditions -- dry weather and high winds -- the fire escaped and grew to kill three people and destroy nearly two dozen homes.

"I think it was so preventable had we managed the fire a little bit differently," said Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, a Democrat representing District 16 and a co-sponsor of the bill.

"We are doing something to try to prevent a tragedy like the Lower North Fork Fire tragedy from happening again," she said.

7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost asked Nicholson if the bill contains any penalty if a burn plan is not followed.

"There isn't anything in this bill," Nicholson replied.

The bill has been amended since those interviews with Appel and Nicholson, but the amendments made no substantive change to the plans in the legislation. The changes were made to accommodate legal definitions, a bill that transferred certain duties from one agency to another and reflect the correct name of a training fund.

A law already on the books, which is supposed to expand the state's liability limit for victims of the Lower North Fork fire, is stalled. So far, Scott Appel says they've received nothing.

"The path that was created is stuck in the deep freeze. We have no idea when our claims will be reviewed, none. Not one penny of restitution has been made to the people that were affected by the fire, not a penny," said Appel.

Read the Colorado Prescribed Burning Act: http://www.leg.state.co.us/CLICS/CLICS2013A/csl.nsf/fsbillcont3/5F5B370100DCF8DC87257A8C00507309?Open&file=083_ren.pdf