DENVER – Victims of last month’s deadly wildfire southwest of Denver gave emotional accounts at the state Capitol on Monday before lawmakers gave initial approval to a measure aimed at compensating residents.
But state leaders warned it sets an unfair precedent for the state on how damage claims against it are handled, even if the intent is a noble one. Some lawmakers argued it may block residents from seeking relief in the courts. Democrats also questioned whether it was wise to have lawmakers be in charge of deciding damage claims during an election year.
Three people died and two dozen homes were damaged from the fire that grew out of a state prescribed burn near a mountain community. The fire, known as the Lower North Fork Fire, caused at least $11 million in property damage. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office said all but possibly two of the homes affected are insured.
Republicans sponsoring a bill to create a commission to pay victims’ claims argue the state should pay because its actions caused the fire, even if investigators determine there was no criminal wrongdoing.
A House committee approved the bill Monday on an 8-3 vote. The bill still needs to be considered by the full House.
“I said goodbye to my parents by kissing their 20-gauge steel casket,” Sam Lucas said. His parents, Sam Lucas, 77, and Linda Lucas, 76, were among the dead. “I’m just trying to relay to you that the people up there on the mountain, they were my parents and I will miss them.”