Lower North Fork fire report: big changes needed for prescribed burns

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- The Lower North Fork Fire Review Team, put together by Governor John Hickenlooper, released its 152-page report Monday.

It focuses on the circumstances surrounding the prescribed burn, but does not look into other issues.

The report concludes it was a perfect storm of factors that turned a typical prescribed burn into an out-of-control forest fire that killed three people, destroyed 27 homes and scorched over four thousand acres.

Team leader Bill Bass says, “Recognize that each of these factors individually would not have caused the fire to escape, but created a cascading effect.”

The biggest factor was winds gusting over 55 miles an hour. Bass says, “There was a fast moving front with winds steady at 15 miles per hour and gusting to 55.”

He says when they started the prescribed burns, only mild winds were in the forecast. He says, “Their outlook was very good and they quite frankly did the burn very well.”

The report says the fire crews followed accepted procedures Friday and Saturday during the mop up.

Read the full report here

On Sunday, even though the winds were picking up and a red flag warning was issued, they did not send anyone to check on or monitor the fire.  And on Monday they sent only one crew. But Bass says this did not make any difference in the outcome.

Governor Hickenloooper says, “They were skilled professionals doing state of the art implementation.”

Among other things, the report recommends improving weather and fire behavior predictions and strengthening mop up and perimeter protections, especially when a prescribed burn is near homes.

The Governor says leaders from various state agencies will also get together to review the state’s emergency handling of fires and prescribed burns. He is also asking for a federal review of the fire.

Meanwhile, local agencies in Jefferson County continue to look into other aspects of the fire, including how the evacuation was handled.

They are also looking into the origins of the fire as it relates to the investigations into the deaths of three people.

There is criticism from residents like Andy Hoover who watched his home burn to the ground. "People are hiding behind legal fences that shouldn't even be there. To many of us, the fact that that is true is disgusting."

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