Montana lawmaker sues fire department for loss of trees during fire

Rep Denny Rehberg

Rep. Denny Rehberg. Photo: Facebook

Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT) has filed a lawsuit against the City of Billings, Montana and the Billings Fire Department for the loss of trees and ground cover on property managed by his wife during an 1,100-acre fire near the Billings airport in July of 2008. Rehberg, who is the developer of record for the subdivision, claims the fire department “breached its duty” during the fire which burned some of the property they intended to develop.

In August of 2009 Rehberg was a passenger in a boat which crashed, injuring himself and two staffers, one of which was in a coma for a week. The driver of the boat, state Senator Greg Barkus, was charged with three felonies, criminal endangerment and two counts of negligent vehicular assault, for allegedly drinking while driving the vessel and crashing the boat at high speed onto a rocky embankment.

Two hours after the crash, which happened between 10 p.m. and midnight, Barkus had a blood-alcohol level of .16, twice the legal limit. Rehberg said that he was surprised to learn the results of Barkus’ blood alcohol test.

“He didn’t appear to be impaired to me when we got on the boat for the return trip,” he said in a statement.

This is not the first time a Montana politician has taken on firefighters. In 2006 Montana Senator Conrad Burns accosted the Augusta Hot Shots when they were waiting for a flight home in the Billings airport after working on the 92,000-acre Bundy Railroad fire, saying to them:

See that guy over there? He hasn’t done a God-damned thing. They sit around. I saw it up on the Wedge fire and in northwestern Montana some years ago. It’s wasteful. You probably paid that guy $10,000 to sit around. It’s gotta change.

Burns was up for re-election, running against Democrat Jon Tester. Soon, 1,000 “Wildland Firefighters for Tester” bumper stickers appeared. Tester won by about 2,000 votes, and the leading political columnist for the Lee Newspaper chain credited the “firefighter flap.”

Rehberg won his Republican primary last month and will face Democratic nominee Dennis McDonald in the November 2 election. It’s anybody’s guess if “Firefighters for McDonald” bumper stickers will soon start appearing on cars.

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About Bill Gabbert

Wildland fire has been a major part of Bill Gabbert’s life for several decades. After growing up in the south, he migrated to southern California where he lived for 20 years, working as a wildland firefighter. Later he took his affinity for firefighting to Indiana and eventually the Black Hills of South Dakota where he was the Fire Management Officer for a group of seven national parks. Today he is the creator and owner of and Sagacity Wildfire Services and serves as an expert witness in wildland fire. If you are interested in wildland fire, welcome… grab a cup of coffee and put your feet up. Google+