Colorado Governor suspends prescribed burns by state agencies, calls for independent review of circumstances leading to 'devastating' Lower North Fork Fire

DENVER , March 29, 2012 (press release) – Gov. John Hickenlooper joined Colorado State University, which oversees the Colorado State Forest Service, today to call for an independent review into the circumstances that led to the Lower North Fork Fire.

“The loss of life and property this week is devastating and this fire is far from being contained. That’s why our top priority remains working to control the blaze,” Hickenlooper said. “We have made every resource available to firefighters and continue to coordinate the response with local and federal authorities.

“Our state’s firefighters are doing very challenging work, often in the face of severe conditions and at great risk to their own safety. A complete and independent review into the cause will take place. There will be plenty of time to review what happened. Until then, we urge everyone to support the firefighting efforts and keep those directly affected by the fire in your thoughts and prayers.”

Work is underway to assemble the independent review team and members will be identified in the near future.

The governor today also suspended the use of prescribed burns by state agencies on state lands – including state parks, refuges, State Land Board lands and any agency that manages lands – or under contract on non-state lands, such as by the Colorado State Forest Service. The suspension will be effective until a review of the protocols and procedures of prescribed burning is complete.

“We will conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of conditions across the state, as well as the protocols that have been utilized during the prescribed burns,” Hickenlooper said. “We encourage any other land manager who uses prescribed fires as a tool to mitigate fire danger to review their procedures and protocols and carefully evaluate weather and landscape conditions.”

While this suspension applies only to state agencies and state lands, other non-state land agencies, such as county lands, federal lands and private lands, should examine their own procedures and consider appropriate steps.

This suspension does not involve campfires or other fire use on state lands. However, state officials will continue to review and monitor conditions (weather, forest conditions, moisture content of vegetation, etc.) to determine if a broader statewide suspension or ban of fire use is warranted.

“Through this suspension, we intend to make sure that we have the procedures and protocols in place so that prescribed fire conditions and management requirements are understood and strictly followed,” Hickenlooper said.

Finally, the governor today authorized the use of two more UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters flown by the Colorado Army National Guard to help battle the Lower North Fork Fire. Each helicopter is equipped with a 500-gallon bucket to drop water on the fire. Two other UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters began flying over the fire on Tuesday.

Hickenlooper will return to Colorado tonight after ending a four-day trade mission to Mexico. He has remained in constant contact this week with senior staff in the Governor’s Office to help coordinate response to the fire.

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