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Bill to Compensate Victims of Lower North Fork Fire Advances

Nathan Heffel
The Lower North Fork Fire as seen from a distance.

About two-dozen victims of the Lower North Fork Fire were at the State Capitol on Monday to hear lawmakers debate a bill that seeks to compensate them above the current state requirement of $600,000.00 per incident.

Sam Lucas lost his parents in the fire.

“There will be a hole in the community because of my parents passing on. What I really hope that the next boulder that rolls down on a bus, the next wildfire that happens there’s not somebody like me sitting in this chair.”

A state investigation found that the Forest Service followed normal best practices but a host of factors led to the wildfire, including high winds and weather forecasts that weren’t adequately predicted.

Representative Bob Gardner (R- Colorado Springs) says the state should accept responsibility.

“The state burned your house down, the state took the life of your loved one, sometimes the state makes mistakes, and we can’t do anything because we have immunity. I’m unwilling to say that.”

Gardner says increasing the Colorado Government Immunity cap beyond its current limit will be an uphill battle. Instead he’s proposing a bi-partisan legislative commission to process claims. The commission would recommend how much to pay victims to the full legislature.

Representative Daniel Kagan (D-Denver) worries the committee could get bogged down in politics.

“The fate of the claim will be in the hands of a commission whom 5 will be in the middle of an election campaign. I’m not sure I’d want my claim to be processed by 6 people, 5 of whom are elected officials.”

Governor John Hickenlooper also opposes the commission. His spokesman says governmental immunity protects the state from unpredictable catastrophic losses or expensive insurance policies that taxpayers would have to cover. Opponents also worry that if the state paid millions of dollars to victims of this wildfire, it would set an unattainable precedent.

The measure will next be debated on the full house floor.

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