Gov. Hickenlooper signs orders aimed at reducing wildfire losses

Posted on: 7:05 pm, January 30, 2013, by

DENVER — Colorado Gov.  John Hickenlooper put pen to paper Wednesday in hopes of avoiding another unprecedented wildfire season in 2013.

He signed three executive orders to reduce wildfire losses and risks.

Thousands of wildfires destroyed more than 650 homes, killed several people and caused $538-million damage in 2012.

The Governor says the orders are important steps because a quarter of all Coloradans live in homes close to, or in, forested lands.

“We responded to over 4,000 wild land fires. It burned over 385,000 acres,” Hickenlooper says.

Fires also killed six people, including Ann Appel.

“I’m concerned. I am one of the many people affected by the fire last March 26,” says Appel’s husband, Scott.

Appel came to the Capitol to see how the executive orders affect prescribed burns.

“I have a problem with that (prescribed burns),” he says.

A prescribed burn that went horribly wrong fueled the Lower North Fork fire killing Scott’s wife. It killed an elderly couple as well.

One executive order allows the state to resume slash-pile burning—not the more vast prescribed burning of the forest undergrowth.

“Without hesitation to say, we know implementing the pile burning is a safer situation,” says Paul Cooke, Director of the Division of Fire Prevention Control.

The other two executive orders establish committees—one to review fire response and manage prescribed burns. The other will review issues with forest health and insurance coverage.

“We also have to work out insurance implications and how to communicate what they are truly covered for,” says Cooke.

But one issue Appel says is still unaddressed is the state’s responsibility for its mistake that cost him everything.

“Everything. And there’s nobody lining up to make it right. It’s just the opposite, people are running the other way,” he says. “Has the state done a thorough investigation about what led to this catastrophe? No. Absolutely not.”

The state says it has 100,000 slash piles it needs to burn.

But it must now do so under stricter guidelines—one being there has to be a minimum of four to six-inches of snow cover on the ground.

Also, now there are specific guidelines on how the public is notified about burns—through community meetings and the media.

It’s unknown when the state will eliminate its ban on the wider type of prescribed burns.