Colorado Forest Service faces lawsuits over Lower North Fork Fire

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DENVER -- Colorado State University confirms as many as nine claims of intent to sue have been filed following the Lower North Fork Fire.

CSU oversees the Colorado Forrest Service, and would not release information on who filed the claims, but reports show American Family Insurance could be involved. The company represents homeowners in the fire damaged area.

According to David Beller of Recht & Kornfeld, Colorado law says any person or company that plans to file a suit against the state must first file intent to sue, which gives the state 60 days notice.

“This is simply a notice to the state that these parties intend to bring lawsuit against the state.”

Despite the claims, Beller says the state is somewhat protected. “Generally there’s a limited liability, it’s limited to $600,000 per incident.” That means the best case scenario for multiple plaintiffs would be to split the $600,000, “with no one person getting more than $150,000.”

The Lower North Fork Fire started as a prescribed burn, and the Colorado Forest Service told investigators it did everything it could to make sure the burn was out. But according to its own internal investigation, that wasn’t the case.

Bill Bass lead the fire review team and says the burn was left unattended Sunday March 25th, the day before the fire burned out of control. “It was a professionally written plan, it was professionally implemented, albeit one mistake with the patrol on Sunday.”

Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink also says a lack of communication between emergency crews caused significant delays in response. “The Fire Chiefs on the scene were telling us in our interviews, that they would’ve preferred to be called sooner than later.”

According to the fire review team report, it took more than a half an hour for Forest Service crews to call for help once they recognized the fire was out of control.

According to Beller, information like that could prove useful in a lawsuit against the state. “In a case like this, the plaintiffs are going to look at everything, and certainly statements of officials acting in their official capacity is absolutely going to come into play.”