Gov. John Hickenlooper has named William Bass, a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service, to lead a four-person team to review the prescribed burn that preceded the Lower North Fork fire last month in Jefferson County.
The governor and Colorado State University, which oversees the Colorado State Forest Service, called for the independent review last week. Bass, currently the forest supervisor of the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, will lead a fact-finding team that will assess the planning, protocols and execution of the prescribed burn.
The review will include data collection, interviews of personnel involved and an assessment of the planning for the prescribed burn conducted by the Colorado State Forest Service. The team will issue a report at the end of its review, which is expected to take about 30 days.
The review is distinct from a separate law enforcement investigation by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, aided by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and other local, state and federal agencies, that is designed to determine the origin of the Lower North Fork fire and the circumstances surrounding the fatalities connected to the fire.
The governor on Monday also announced he is working with Colorado's Congressional delegation, specifically U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, to issue a joint letter calling for an after-action review of the Lower North Fork fire. This review will take place after firefighters have achieved 100 percent containment of the blaze, and after the review of the prescribed fire being conducted by Bass and his team.
This Lower North Fork fire after-action review will follow a separate process that focuses on such things as response coordination, fire suppression efforts and communication among responders and with residents. The scope of this review and who will conduct it will be determined in the coming days. A more comprehensive review of the protocols and procedures of prescribed burning on state lands or by state agencies will be conducted after the work by Bass and his team is complete. The governor last week suspended the use of prescribed burns by state agencies or on state lands until this review could take place. Detailed plans for this review and who will oversee it have not been finalized.
Bass' team has already started to gather information about the prescribed burn. His team includes U.S. Forest Service personnel with expertise in prescribed fire planning, operations and fire behavior. The team will work with a designated official from each of the following entities: Denver Water; the Colorado State Forest Service; and the Governor's Office. These officials will help ensure the efficient production of information requested by the review team. Bass has extensive experience with dozens of fire-related reviews in his career with the U.S. Forest Service. He joined the USFS in 1975 and has worked in Utah, Idaho, Colorado and - for the last 12 years - Wyoming. He once held the position of acting deputy regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region of the USFS.
Bass has spent the past 22 years in a leadership role as a Line Office and Agency Administrator within the USFS. His current role as Forest Supervisor on the Bighorn National Forest includes responsibility for more than 1 million acres of federal land. Bass earned a bachelor's degree in Science in Range Science from Utah State University.