Lower North Fork Fire victims demand restitution, apology in letter to lawmakers

Prescribed burn killed 3, destroyed 22 homes

DENVER - Victims of the Lower North Fork Fire went to lawmakers on Tuesday with a long list of demands that include restitution and an apology.

The fire killed Ann Appel and Sam and Linda Lucas, destroyed 22 homes and burned 4,148 acres.

The blaze started as a prescribed burn set by the Colorado State Forest Service on March 22, 2012. It was not properly extinguished and escaped its boundaries on March 26.

One year later, the victim's claims not covered by insurance are no closer to being paid.

"Anybody who's had this type of a loss, you reach a point where you just start to miss people. They'll be a particular thing, I'll think, 'Oh man, I need some guidance, I think I'll call my dad,' and all of sudden you realize that's just not there," said Sam and Linda Lucas’ son, who is also named Sam. "It's that type of just missing them that has been really, really hard on me."

Many of the victims went to state lawmakers Tuesday with a letter requesting restitution and an apology, among other demands.

"We are providing them a letter, pleading with them to stop this continuing agony that we're going through," said Tom Scanlan, one of the survivors of the fire.

Lucas says that the people who gathered at the Capitol Tuesday were there to show that they would not give up.

"I think the fact that you see all these people here shows you that we're going to hang on,” said Lucas.

The letter from Kuehster Road homeowners group and community begins with, "On March 26,2012, the Lower North Fork Fire started by the Colorado State Forest Service killed three of our neighbors, devasted [sic] our land, burned our homes and degraded our lives forever."

"We want to heal. We want want to stop grieving and being forced to relive this tragedy in court," the letter says. "We want justice now so we can move on with our lives, instead of this perpetual degrading situation the AG has forced us into."

"We are now nearly one year after the fire and not a dime has been paid to my clients, and we are still stuck on square one because of bureaucratic red tape posed to us by the Attorneys General," said Tom Henderson, an attorney representing a number of the victims. "This is anything but real-time compensation. They didn't have to do it that way. They could have allowed the claims board process to work through its natural course as it was designed to do by our legislature."

The letter to lawmakers ends with, "We believe in your ability to end the pride and politics that continue to disrupt and delay our rightful judicial process, and help us become whole again."

In a joint news conference in May, Governor John Hickenlooper, Attorney General John Suthers and both legislative houses announced a compromise that would allow victims a chance to avoid court and have their full claims heard by a state claims board on which Suthers sits.

Because they still have not been allowed to go through the claims board process, victims of the fire feel that Suthers is not representing them as he should.

"I am astonished and dismayed that he thinks so little of (Suthers’) legal responsibilities and of the people he is supposed to represent. I don't believe he deserves to be called a public defender," Scanlan said.

"I feel the state doesn't value life. I feel the Attorney General doesn't value life, otherwise he would come forward. He would've tried to work as hard as he could, as fast as he could, to get the resolution on this issue," said Lucas.

Lucas says he fears that lawmakers will not compensate the victims at all.

"I'm afraid now, that none of these people that have been involved in this from day one will get any compensation," said Lucas. "As time moves on, the probability of getting 100 percent or even a high percentage becomes smaller and smaller."

State Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, says that she and other lawmakers will help the victims.

"We're going to make sure that the government does what it should in the first place and takes care of all these other wonderful people," said State Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.

"I'm ashamed at what the state of Colorado is doing to these people," Gerou told 7NEWS.

It is still unclear when the state will aid the victims and where the money would come from.

"Could the state have paid $73 million this year?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"Yes, the state could have. I'm not sure the state will be able to next year," said Gerou. "We could find ourselves in a whole lot of hurt next year, and we had one-time dollars this year and they're not going to the victims."

There is no money intended for the victims in the budget cycle for the coming year, Gerou said.

"We've already appropriated the dollars for the '13-'14 budget cycle, so there is no money in this budget cycle for the Lower North Fork Fire victims," Gerou said.

Since late February, 7NEWS has made multiple requests to interview Suthers regarding the process that the Lower North Fork Fire victims are going through. On March 14, Suthers' spokeswoman scheduled an interview time for March 21.

Early that morning, the interview was abruptly canceled. 7NEWS was told it was because of security concerns. On Friday, at the Lower North Fork Fire civil court case in Jefferson County, 7NEWS tried to interview the attorneys representing the Attorney General's Office, but their answers were prevented by the Attorney General's spokeswoman.

"I know we've been talking about when you'd like to come in and sit down with us, we have that under discussion for next week. Have you made a decision for when you'd like to get together?" said spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler.

On Tuesday, after the survivors voiced their strong criticism of Suthers, we reached out to Suthers for reaction and response.

His spokeswoman texted, "He's not available for a Channel 7 interview."

Read the full letter from the victims: http://media.thedenverchannel.com/documents/LNFFLetterToCoLeg.pdf

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