Gov. John Hickenlooper will sign two bills into law on Monday that will help victims of the late-March Lower North Fork wildfire that destroyed 23 homes, killed three people, burned more than 4,000 acres and caused at least $11 million of damage in the hills southwest of Denver seek compensation from the state for their losses, according to The Associated Press
In years past, the state capped compensation in wildfire disasters at a maximum of $600,000, but HB 12-1361 will allow Lower North Fork Fire victims the ability to seek compensation beyond that cap. Called the "Colorado Governmental Immunity Act," the bill includes prescribed burns in the list of waivers from governmental immunity, facilitates wildfire suits against the state and removes the need for officials to individually evaluate claims outside of the courts.
The second bill, HB 12-1352, the "Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission" bill, will create a commission comprised of five state legislators -- two members of the House, two members of the Senate and the director of the Department of Public Safety -- who will investigate the causes of the Lower North Fork fire and make recommendations for action that might aid in preventing another such disaster.
7News reports that eight notice of intent to sue claims have been filed against the state of Colorado for the Lower North Fork Fire.
Officials who managed the Lower North Fork Fire faced particular scrutiny after a controlled burn there reignited, then spread fueled by "a deadly cascade of missteps" including misinformed dispatchers and emergency evacuation calls to wrong addresses.
“We all recognize that our immediate need is to assist the victims of the Lower North Fork fire,” Hickenlooper said in a press release in May when the bills were still being debated. “This proposal allows fire victims to make claims under the new law, and it gives them an avenue to seek compensation in a way that we believe is constitutional.”
LOOK: Photos from the Lower North Fork Fire and video of the Gulick family's terrifying escape from the fire: