DENVER (AP) – State officials are recommending organizational changes to the Colorado State Forest Service following a deadly wildfire that grew out of a prescribed burn the agency had set.
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday announced a proposal to have the agency’s wildfire management functions and the state Division of Emergency Management report to the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
The State Forest Service is currently part of Colorado State University and reports to academic officials, not state emergency officials. CSU President Tony Frank said forest research and management would stay under the umbrella of the university.
Legislation is needed to enact the change. Hickenlooper said the transfer will be a smooth one that could be accomplished as early as the end of July.
Frank said establishing a single point of command for wildfire response is essential in “dealing with those early moments in the chaotic situations that often surround a wildfire situation.”
Embers from a controlled burn that the State Forest Service set March 22 reignited in heavy winds, sparking a wildfire March 26 near Conifer that damaged at least 23 homes and left three people dead.
Hickenlooper said this is just one recommendation to improve the state’s emergency response to wildfires.
“Nothing we are doing today restores the property loss or the lives lost in the Lower North Fork Fire,” he said.
On April 16, a review led by veteran forest manager William Bass examining the controlled burn found that firefighters departed from their plan on one point by patrolling the perimeter for only two consecutive days after it was ignited.
They decided against going back as planned on the third day because they saw little risk, Bass said. Still, Bass found there was little firefighters could have done differently to prevent the wildfire that followed on a particularly warm, windy day.
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Jefferson County investigators found no criminal wrongdoing.
Frank said there have been no administrative changes to the State Forest Service since the burn.
The governor said a ban on prescribed fires on state land remains in effect indefinitely.
– By REMA RAHMAN, Associated Press
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