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Republicans Demand Compensation for Wildfire Victims [Updated]

Kirk Siegler

A partisan political battle is igniting at the state capitol today over last month’s deadly Lower North Fork Fire near Conifer.

Republicans say Governor John Hickenlooper's plan unveiled Monday to change the structure of how the state manages wildfires and prescribed burns doesn't do enough for the fire's victims.  The Governor has called for new legislation making the Department of Public Safety the main point of contact in emergencies rather than other agencies such as the Colorado State Forest Service.   

KUNC's State Capitol Reporter Bente Birkeland reports on All Things Considered this afternoon that House Speaker Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) said he was disappointed that the Governor didn't touch on how to better compensate the victims of the fire, which began on state forest service land as a prescribed burn and eventually destroyed 27 homes and killed three people.

At a news conference, McNulty said:

We understand the need for organizational change that may be appropriate. But more importantly the cost, the loss of life must be addressed. And nothing that Governor Hickenlooper said or recommended sought to address these very real concerns.  

State GOP leaders are proposing to set up a commission to compensate victims.

But Birkeland goes on to report that Republicans aren't saying if there is enough money in the state budget to fund paying out potentially millions of dollars to fire victims.  Several victims have filed notices of intent to sue the state, as Channel 7 reported recently.

For its part, the Governor's office says it's still reviewing the Republican proposal.

UPDATE 4/24/12 3:43 PM: In an email, Eric Brown, spokesman for the Governor, sent us this response:

“We completely understand the impulse to help the victims of this fire. There are no words to express how our hearts ache for the lost lives and lost property. In times of tragedy and great sorrow, we have a responsibility to act with our hearts, but also our heads. The state law limiting liability exists for a reason. Without the limits, local governments throughout Colorado would be forced to carry insurance policies to pay potential damages. Taxpayers would pay for those policies. Perhaps that’s a change Colorado should consider, but certainly not in a knee-jerk manner that lacks substance or attempts to politicize an already tragic situation. “


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