DENVER — The fire that raced through the foothills southwest of Denver two years ago killed three people and burned down two dozen homes, including that of a couple who are heirs to former President Herbert Hoover.
The wildfire grew from a state prescribed burn, and on Friday a state Senator sponsoring a bill to compensate victims of the blaze described the scene at the scorched land where Andrew and Jean Hoover's home once stood. Jean Hoover was in front of a large metal tray full of ashes, using her hands to sift through them to find mementos she could salvage, said Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk.
"She found a little piece of bone china, and she picked it up and she showed it to me," Nicholson recalled. "And she said, 'Oh, this is all that is left of a full set of fine bone china that was once the presidential china in the White House, and handed down from one generation to the next and finally to me.'"
Because the wildfire near Conifer in March 2012 started as a prescribed burn, the state is liable for damages. A bill given initial approval by the full Senate Friday identifies 20 parties with outstanding claims from the Lower North Fork Fire, and budgets $17.6 million for payments.
Under the bill, the Hoovers are getting about $2.5 million. The family of 51-year-old Ann Appel, one of three people who died, are receiving $4.7 million.
Nicholson read the names of each of the claimants while presenting the proposal.
"Because we're not talking about just money, we are talking about people's lives that were forever harmed by this event," she said. The bill still needs a recorded vote in the Senate before going to the House.
"We need to make our best effort to restore their confidence in government and show them in a very concrete way that we care about them, and we are responsible for our actions," Nicholson said.
Colorado Springs Sen. Bill Cadman, the GOP leader in the Senate, is sponsoring the proposal with Nicholson. He noted that the fire victims have been waiting a long time for state compensation. If the bill becomes law, the victims will get their payments by Sept. 1.
"There is no way that any of these lives will be made whole financially, not by any stretch," Cadman said. "And their path to healing has no end, literally there is no end. But at least with this bill, they finally have a beginning."