Time:09:32 AM to 08:58 PM
Place:HCR 0112
This Meeting was called to order by
Senator Roberts
This Report was prepared by
Julia Jackson
X = Present, E = Excused, A = Absent, * = Present after roll call
Bills Addressed: Action Taken:
Opening Remarks
Forest Health and Prescribed Burns
Emergency Management and Communication
Fire Behavior and the Lower North Fork Fire
Conifer High School Public Hearing
Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only
Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only
Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only
Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only
Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only

09:33 AM -- Opening Remarks

The meeting was called to order. A quorum was present. Senator Roberts, chair, introduced herself and explained the commission's charge. Other members of the commission introduced themselves.

09:41 AM

Mr. David Blake, Deputy Attorney General, discussed the claims process and the charge of the commission. He noted that there is a September 22 deadline for individuals to file claims, explained the filing process, and discussed the lawsuit currently ongoing in Jefferson County. He reminded the public again of the importance of filing claims. Representative Gerou and Mr. Blake discussed the timeline for the claims process, which Mr. Blake noted will depend on court action. Mr. Blake reminded the committee members that he would be available at the evening meeting as well.

09:49 AM -- Forest Health and Prescribed Burns

Mr. Mike Babler of the Nature Conservancy introduced himself and his organization to the committee. Committee members received an information sheet about sustaining forests and communities on the Front Range (Attachment A). Mr. Babler's presentation slides are also attached (Attachment B).

120813 AttachA.pdf120813 AttachB.pdf

09:53 AM

Mr. Babler began by describing the ecology of Front Range forests. He noted the importance of disturbance to forest health and discussed the historic condition of Colorado forests. He explained the impacts of fire suppression, as well as insects and disease. He noted that the mountain pine beetle has thus far not had a significant impact in the Front Range.

09:59 AM

Mr. Babler explained that the Nature Conservancy worked with the Colorado State Forest Service to assess the state's forests. He noted that the assessment found some species that depend on wild fires. He described the wildland-urban interface in the Front Range, noting the impact of fire on areas beyond homes, such as electric and communications lines. Mr. Babler discussed the drivers of large, uncharacteristic fires, including weather, topography, and fuel.

10:07 AM

Mr. Babler discussed the options available for forest management. He explained the role of the Colorado Prescribed Fire Council, of which he is a member. He stated that the Nature Conservancy supports the use of prescribed burns as an important tool in forest management.

10:14 AM

Senator Nicholson and Mr. Babler discussed the impact of mountain pine beetle kill, particularly in Grand and Summit Counties. Mr. Babler explained that the presence of standing dead trees and fallen trees could result in more intense fires if the conditions are right. Representative Levy and Mr. Babler discussed the impact of treatments, such as prescribed burns, on fire behavior. Mr. Babler agreed to provide studies on the matter. Representative Gerou and Mr. Babler discussed the historical context of forest management, including early unregulated grazing, mining, and railroads. Mr. Babler noted that most of the trees in our forests are about the same age. Representative Gerou discussed specific forest conditions in Jefferson County.

10:24 AM

Senator Nicholson and Mr. Babler discussed the recommendations from a state report regarding prescribed fires. Senator Roberts and Mr. Babler discussed previous efforts to address catastrophic fires. Mr. Babler explained that there are cost limitations, problems with road access, and a variety of other complex factors. Discussion continued regarding Mr. Babler's recommendations for the best use of limited resources. Mr. Babler and Senator Roberts discussed the timber industry in Colorado, and best practices for forest management throughout the western United States. Senator Nicholson continued to discuss the timber industry. Senator Roberts and Mr. Babler discussed the regulatory process for prescribed burns, including smoke impacts and air quality regulations.

10:35 AM -- Emergency Management and Communication

Mr. Daryl Branson, Colorado 9-1-1 Resource Center, provided an overview of 9-1-1 in Colorado. Committee members received a copy of his presentation (Attachment C). Mr. Branson explained that 9-1-1 service is administered locally in Colorado. He described the decisions regarding funds generated by 9-1-1 surcharges. He explained the use of emergency notification systems (ENS), noting that they are an option for which local governments may spend their surcharge funds. Mr. Branson discussed the challenges that an ENS may face. He explained that these systems vary widely, and that only traditional land lines are automatically included in an ENS. He discussed the limitations of "opting in" for mobile phones or voice-over-Internet protocols, including that these notifications would be based only on address, not the consumer's location. He added that there are limitations to the coordination between jurisdictions, as well. He noted that the existence of third-party apps and websites could lead to further consumer confusion.

120813 AttachC.pdf

10:48 AM

Mr. Jack Cobb, Communications Manager for the Office of Emergency Management, presented information to the committee about interoperable communications, which is the ability of first responders to talk across disciplines and jurisdictions. Committee members received a copy of his presentation (Attachment D). Mr. Cobb explained that Colorado operates under a "system of systems," because varied systems are used throughout the state. He discussed the specifics of these systems in Colorado.

120813 AttachD.pdf

10:56 AM

Representative Levy and Mr. Branson discussed the opportunities for public input on local ENS decisions. Mr. Branson noted that most jurisdictions have a 9-1-1 authority board, in addition to their city councils and county commissions. Discussion continued regarding public education on mobile phone opt-ins. Representative Gerou and Mr. Branson discussed the mobile phone registration process in Jefferson County, and the decisions regarding location-specific notification. Mr. Branson explained that different systems have different capabilities for refining their location data, noting that some systems can target specific neighborhoods using GIS.

11:04 AM -- Fire Behavior and the Lower North Fork Fire

Mr. Rocco Snart, Department of Public Safety, Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Wildland Fire Management, introduced himself to the committee. He described his work on the Lower North Fork Fire specifically, noting that he previously worked as a Fire Management Officer for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. He explained that he was assigned as a safety officer for the prescribed fire and an agency representative as the fire grew. He described the long- and short-term weather impacts on the fire, explaining that weather drives fire fuels as well. He continued to discuss the impact of weather conditions on fire fuels and the susceptibility of wildfire.

11:16 AM

Mr. Snart emphasized wind conditions, the slope on which the fire burned, and the condition of fuels in the area. Senator Nicholson and Mr. Snart discussed the masticated fuels and resulting fire behavior. Representative Gerou clarified that Mr. Snart would be available for the afternoon and evening portions of the commission meeting. They discussed tree ages and sizes, and their ability to respond to drought conditions. At Representative Gerou's request, Mr. Snart explained the decisions involving wind speed and controlled burns, noting the limitations of weather forecasting.

11:30 AM

Representative Levy and Mr. Snart discussed defensible space and the ability of intense fires to override mitigation efforts. Mr. Snart explained the limitations of existing research on fire behavior. Discussion continued regarding the effectiveness of defensible space and other mitigation techniques. Senator Roberts and Mr. Snart discussed resource challenges and the best use of available funding. Mr. Snart explained the importance of prioritizing projects and the use of community wildfire protection plans. He added that at the county level, he would have had use for more staff.

11:41 AM

Representative Gerou and Mr. Snart discussed the community wildfire protection plans in place for the North Fork and Inter-Canyon Fire Districts, which cover the area of the Lower North Fork Fire.

11:43 AM

The committee recessed.

05:52 PM -- Conifer High School Public Hearing

The commission returned to order. Commissioner Roberts provided opening remarks about the day's activities, and explained her background. She then discussed the charge of the commission, and explained the procedures for the meeting. Mr. David Blake, Deputy Attorney General, briefed the public on the ongoing litigation and claims process pertaining to the Lower North Fork Wildfire. He explained the process by which the wildfire victims may file a notice of claim.

06:05 PM

Mr. Blake continued to brief the public about ongoing litigation pertaining to the Lower North Fork Wildfire. Mr. Blake responded to a question regarding the order of the litigation process, and explained the impact of House Bill 12-1361 on the litigation process. Discussion ensued regarding the length of time that may be involved in settling litigation associated with the Lower North Fork Wildfire, and the impact of state law on this time line.

06:15 PM

The commissioners introduced themselves and provided their backgrounds with respect to the Lower North Fork Wildfire.

06:24 PM

The commission heard a presentation about the Lower North Fork Wildfire, narrated by Mr. Tom Scanlan, a Conifer resident who lost property in the fire. The presentation materials are attached (Attachment E).

120813 AttachE.pdf

07:26 PM

The commission heard testimony from the following witnesses:

07:26 PM --
Mr. Jim Fildey discussed the weather conditions in the Conifer area, particularly the winds that the area experiences. He read some statements regarding efforts to extinguish the prescribed burn that led to the Lower North Fork Wildfire, and discussed his recollection of efforts to extinguish the fire.

07:32 PM -- Ms. Kim Olson and Mr. Doug Gulick testified about the wildfire. Ms. Olson discussed her experiences before and during the wildfire, including her efforts to access information about the prescribed burn and the resulting wildfire. She expressed her disappointment in the lack of information provided to the residents of her community, and explained how the events of the wildfire differed from previous instances of fire in the area. Ms. Olson then discussed the evacuation, and the impact of the wildfire on her property.

07:42 PM

Ms. Olson discussed the emotional toll the wildfire has taken on her family. Mr. Gulick discussed efforts undertaken by community members to access information about the wildfire as it was occurring, and described his experience as his family evacuated their residence. Ms. Olson discussed the need for proactive measures to prevent tragedy.

07:47 PM --
Ms. Marsha Petry discussed the fact that prescribed burns were a topic of discussion in Conifer in March 2012, considering the conditions in the area at the time. Ms. Petry discussed the notification signs placed near areas to be the subject of prescribed burns.

07:50 PM --
Mr. Harlen Helker discussed the risk involved with conducting a prescribed burn in the area where it was conducted, and voiced opposition to conducting such burns.

07:52 PM --
Ms. Sharon Scanlan discussed the experiences of her family since the Lower North Fork Wildfire burned their home, including efforts to file claims for lost property, the emotional toll of the event, and efforts to recover from the event. Discussion ensued regarding future intentions in the area of property reclamation by the Denver Water Board.

08:00 PM --
Mr. Sam Lucas discussed the loss of his parents’ lives and property in the Lower North Fork Wildfire, and his resulting experiences. Mr. Lucas discussed the questions he hoped to have answered as the commission’s process moves forward.

08:05 PM --
Mr. Scott Appel posed several questions about the prescribed burn that led to the Lower North Fork Wildfire.

08:11 PM --
Ms. MaryAnn Ellis discussed the points of failure during the prescribed burn that led to the wildfire, and her experiences since the wildfire.

08:16 PM --
Dr. Robert Suding discussed his experiences with wildfires in the Conifer area, efforts that could have been undertaken to reduce the impacts of the Lower North Fork Wildfire, and technology that could assist future wildfire fighting efforts. Dr. Suding discussed the need to reduce fuel in forested residential areas, and certain factors that contribute to wildfires.

08:24 PM --
Ms. Susan Sorenson discussed the loss of her sister-in-law due to the Lower North Fork Wildfire, and posed several questions about the handling of the prescribed burn and the wildfire. Ms. Sorenson discussed the ongoing litigation associated with the fire.

08:31 PM --
Mr. Andy Hoover discussed the negligent nature of the actions undertaken in association with the Lower North Fork Wildfire, and urged the commission to lead on the issue of restitution for the victims of the wildfire.

08:33 PM --
Ms. Beth Semptimphelter discussed her hope to have a discussion with representatives of the Colorado State Forest Service and Denver Water Board about the Lower North Fork Wildfire. She discussed the strength of her community and the risks with which it lives. Ms. Semptimphelter discussed the lack of notice provided to her community about the upcoming prescribed burn on the Denver Water Board property, and the activities that led to the wildfire. She discussed systems that need to be in place to avoid future wildfire tragedies.

08:43 PM --
Ms. Alison MacKenzie discussed the lack of communication by public entities in the event of emergencies, as well as other events including prescribed burns. Ms. MacKenzie urged the commission to seek financial resources to aid the wildfire victims.

08:47 PM --
Mr. Bruce Ellis provided his testimony about the Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission.

08:48 PM --
Mr. Jim Sorenson discussed the lack of changes made by public officials associated the Lower North Fork Wildfire, and the dangers associated with living in the Conifer area, relating a recent incidence of lightning strike on his property that ignited a fire. Mr. Sorenson discussed the ongoing litigation associated with the wildfire.

08:55 PM

Mr. Bo Pogue, Legislative Council Staff, provided information about how to contact the commission and its staff. Commissioner Roberts provided closing remarks about the wildfire and the commission’s ongoing efforts.

08:58 PM

The commission adjourned.