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A year after Lower North Fork Fire, survivors still unhappy with state response

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — On Tuesday, those touched by the Lower North Fork Fire looked back on a tragedy that shook thousands. It was one year ago Tuesday that the fire claimed three lives and burned neighborhoods to the ground.

And on Tuesday, lawmakers and survivors held a news conference as they continue to rally against the state. They’re not happy with the state’s response to helping with the losses survivors suffered in the destructive wildfire.

They say it’s high time they received what they deserve: a chance to finally move on.

It’s still hard for Jeanie Hoover to wrap her head around everything she lost in the blaze. The fire, a result of a controlled burn by state forestry workers, reduced her sanctuary of a home into rubble.

“It was our dream palace,” Hoover said, wiping tears away from her eyes. “We worked very hard on it for 10 years and we were almost finished. Now we’re really finished.”

Hoover says she’s still waiting on some sort of compensation from the state.

“They started a fire that they neglected for 44 hours,” she said. “And they have not come and cut one tree down.”

Now a year later, many who lost everything are working together, trying to promote some action and removing as many of the thousands of burned trees as possible.

It hasn’t been easy.

“There’s this enormous stress — both of losing your home losing and your friends, and fighting with the state because you’ve lost all the value in your land,” resident Sharon Scanlan said.

Scott Appel lost his wife, his home and hundreds of acres of investment property worth millions. He’s had to borrow money to stay afloat. He’s also been fighting what he calls “the state bureaucracy” for a year.

“The Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission was supposed to investigate the cause of the fire,” Appel said. “We, as a group, pulled all the state’s documents and provided them copies. There was no investigation. None.”

On Tuesday, homeowners who lost everything will stand with state lawmaker Cheri Gerou and continue to make their case.

“They decided that they didn’t want to talk about anything that went wrong,” Gerou said. “They didn’t want to talk about any cause, even though the Governor had admitted that the state caused the fires.”

In Appel’s opinion, the state “burned down the wrong bunch of folks.”

“There aren’t quitters up here,” Appel said. “We’re not a bunch of dummies. We’ll follow this to the end.”

Lawmakers voted to grant residents money immediately. But a three-judge panel is still working to make that happen.

The attorney general’s office told FOX31 Denver they regret the delay, but face hurdles of their own. They say they share the same sentiment as the survivors: They want to help everyone get on with their lives.