News Release: State Fire Agency Releases Report on Elkhorn Creek Unit #4 Prescribed Fire Review



Contact: Caley Fisher | | 720-391-1565


March 12, 2020 - The Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) Compliance and Professional Standards Office has completed the report of a review into the Elkhorn Creek Unit #4 Prescribed Fire, which escaped and became a wildfire on Oct. 16, 2019. The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) has published the report on their website: 


The review found that, like other prescribed fires that have escaped, a complex series of factors combined to contribute to the escape. Chief among them were:

  • Intricate, changing weather conditions that contributed to increased fire intensity and spread rates;

  • An underestimation of the fuels present and how they would behave, based on a lack of fuel moisture data and use of fuel behavior models that did not fully align with the fuels present;

  • An operational plan that did not detail adequate staffing and resources to contain an escape, and which outlined a range of acceptable conditions too broad to trigger a decision to call off the burn;

  • Common human biases that led to overconfidence in the likelihood of an incident-free burn after a successful burn of a larger area the day before;

  • A staffing model that pairs highly experienced fire staff with trainees, which provides excellent capacity-building but which delayed the timing of the burn.

The report commended the individuals and agencies involved in the prescribed burn for quickly recognizing and responding to the escape as a wildfire, thus limiting the scope of damage and containing the fire the same day it escaped. 


Finally, the report offered recommendations for preventing future escapes. These were divided into:

  • Recommendations for any practitioner or agency that conducts prescribed fires;

  • Recommendations for the Nature Conservancy, the private entity that planned and led the prescribed burn;

  • And recommendations for DFPC, which is not required to participate in prescribed fires but could reduce the risk of unintended consequences through greater involvement in helping practitioners plan for and carry out prescribed burns.

The review has been presented to the community and primary stakeholders involved in the burn. 


You can read and download the full report on the DFPC website, by clicking this link. 


Any updates on this matter will be posted to the DFPC website.