The Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission released yesterday its recommendations for changes in the wake of the deadly spring blaze. Improving coordination among first responders, raising limits on government liability and improved emergency notification are part of the recommended overhaul.
The Lower North Fork Fire started on March 22 when a prescribed burn reignited in Jefferson County near Conifer. Fed by 50mph winds, the blaze exploded to 4,140 acres claiming three lives and destroying or seriously damaging 27 homes.
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In the wake of the blaze, tough questions have been asked about the lack of monitoring of the controlled burn conducted by the Colorado State Forest Service. A reorganization of the state’s emergency resources followed and moved them all under the umbrella of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
The commission was charged with further evaluating the cause of the fire and making recommendations to prevent the occurrence of a similar event in the future. In all, eight specific changes were proposed and four new pieces of legislation recommended.
Among the highlights of the report:
- Recommended further study on how to improve coordination among adjacent counties. Joint training with fellow agencies, coordination of equipment positioning and clarifying responsibilities are among possible improvements.
- The commission called the state’s $600,000 liability cap for its negligence ‘obsolete’. Victims of the fire have been unable to receive adequate and timely reimbursement from the state for their losses and changes to this system are needed.
- Recommends the state legislature to address ‘unmet needs relating to emergency wildfire response’ as it relates to 911 and emergency notification systems. The commission noted that many people in the path of the fire did not receive warnings about the blaze while others outside the danger zone did.
- Address a lack of funding in Colorado for wildfire suppression. The commission recommends finding sources of revenue to address the issue including possibly setting aside portions of lottery proceed or a "fire protection surcharge" to water bills.