New rules for prescribed burns given unanimous approval by State Senate committee

Bill includes no penalty for violations

DENVER - New guidelines for prescribed burns were given initial approval Tuesday. The rules are being developed in the aftermath of a Jefferson County prescribed burn that escaped and became the deadly Lower North Fork Fire in 2012.

The Colorado Prescribed Burning Act was approved Tuesday by the State Senate's Judiciary Committee. A bill to create a wildfire matters review committee in the General Assembly was approved by the and Local Government Committee.

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," said Scott Appel, who lost his wife Ann and their home in the fire. "As you start to look at the facts behind the fire, they're really ugly."

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.

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.