Planned burns suspended on state lands

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday 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.”

The suspension comes in the wake of the Lower North Fork Fire currently raging south of Aspen Park in Jefferson County. The fire has burned nearly 4,000 acres, left two people dead and one missing, and damaged or destroyed 27 homes. It started after strong winds blew a 50-acre burn last week by the state Forest Service out of control on Monday afternoon. Deputy State Forester Joe Duda has apologized on behalf of the agency.

“This is heartbreaking, and we are sorry,” Duda said in a prepared statement. “Despite the best efforts of the Colorado State Forest Service to prevent this very kind of tragic wildfire, we now join Colorado in hoping for the safety of those fighting a large fire, and mourning the loss of life and property.”

Colorado State University, which oversees the Colorado State Forest Service, announced it will conduct an independent review into the specific circumstances that led to the Lower North Fork Fire. Members of the independent review team will be identified in the near future, according to the governor’s office.

The suspension does not involve campfires or other fire use on state lands. While the current suspension of planned burns applies only to state agencies and state lands, the governor urged other land agencies responsible for county, federal and private lands to consider appropriate steps.

State officials will also continue to review and monitor conditions (weather, forest conditions, moisture content of vegetation, etc.) to determine if a broader statewide ban is needed, the governor’s office said.

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