DENVER, CO — Legislative Republicans slammed Governor Hickenlooper’s response to the Lower North Fork Fire as inadequate at a press conference on Tuesday, saying they plan to introduce legislation to set up a commission to help compensate victims of the tragedy.
The commission would be set up to review claims of victims of the fire which resulted in the deaths of three people and destroyed 23 homes. Republicans said Hickenlooper has not dealt with how to compensate the victims of the fire started by the state.
“We expected more from the Governor,” said Speaker of the House Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch).
The state of Colorado currently has a limited liability for up to $600,000, though legislators at the press conference said under the Governmental Immunity Act the state may be immune entirely from any lawsuits. The total cost of the homes destroyed by the fire is estimated at $11 million.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman (R-CO Springs) said he wants to make sure people are “made whole.”
“We don’t have moral impunity,” he said.
The fire began during a state-run prescribed burn when a burning ember blew across the street and ignited. Critics have questioned why a prescribed burn was conducted during a period of high winds.
“The Lower North Fork Fire was a terrible accident that no one wanted,” said State Representative Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen), who represents the affected area. “However, we need to recognize that the fire, which was started by the state, has devastated the lives of so many families in Jefferson County. These families deserve to be heard and be compensated for their losses.”
On Monday, Governor Hickenlooper announced a plan to move the handling of prescribed burns to the Department of Public Safety, and away from the Colorado State Forest Service, housed at Colorado State University. He refused to say whether he thinks the state should waive the liability cap of $600,000 in the case of the fire.
The Denver Post reported last week that nine notices of intent to file suit have been filed against Colorado.
Hickenlooper has not directly addressed the GOP’s move to set up a commission, but his office pushed back against the idea that Hickenlooper has not done enough. Hickenlooper’s spokesman Eric Brown told the Associated Press that “in times of tragedy and great sorrow, we have a responsibility to act with our hearts, but also our heads.”
Speaker McNulty said at the press conference that “time is short” and the Legislature will act.
“The Governor can catch up with us when [the bill] reaches his desk,” said McNulty.