DENVER (AP) – Colorado’s governor said Wednesday he was preparing to put a stop to government-prescribed burns such as the one that may have started the deadly wildfire gnawing through a huge swath of foothills southwest of Denver.
Fire investigators believe the Lower North Fork fire that has left two dead and scorched 7 square miles may have been caused by a flare-up from a prescribed burn in the area last week.
The exact cause was under investigation, but Gov. John Hickenlooper told KOA radio he was prepared to order a stop to prescribed burns.
“My expectation is that within the next few hours, we should arrive at that determination,” he said.
He also said he didn’t blame people for being angry at the government for prescribing a burn in the current dry conditions.
“Their houses have been destroyed. Their lives have been changed forever. It’s not their fault,” Hickenlooper said from Mexico City, where he is on a trade mission that could be cut short because of the blaze.
Prescribed burns have been widely recognized as a good way to lower the risk of wildfires by clearing dried brush and other potential fuel. But in some cases, firefighters can lose control of the blazes.
Some Conifer residents displaced by the Lower North Fork fire said they’re not ready to blame the government for setting a prescribed burn that may have re-ignited.
“Accidents happen. If there was negligence, they’ll figure it out,” said Don Heiden, who was watching televised aerial shots to see if his home was still standing. “To me, it’s more of an act of God.”
In 2001, then-Gov. Bill Owens imposed a summer-long moratorium on planned burns. Owens lifted the ban that fall for a prescribed burn that Forest Service officials later credited with saving hundreds of homes the next year during the Hayman fire – the most destructive in Colorado history.
The Hayman fire destroyed 133 homes but slowed when it reached the area where the Forest Service had conducted the prescribed burn.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
Associated Press writer Dan Elliott contributed to this report from Conifer.
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