Wildfire legal news roundup

It’s odd how sometimes there is a flurry of similar news stories about wildfire. Here are four stories about decisions that were made today about fire causes and financial responsibility.

1. Two men, $300,000

Two men have been told that they have to pay $300,000 for costs related to the 2003 Alta Fire in the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest in Colorado. The fire allegedly started when John D. Wesson and Matthew D. Allen exchanged a lit cigarette, which ignited…

“aspen cotton fluff floating in the air and started the fire,”

according to U.S. Forest Service investigators.

Jeff Dorschner of the U.S. Attorney’s office said the settlement was reached…

“because we got as much as we could possibly get out of the defendants.”

The money, paid by Wesson’s and Allen’s State Farm homeowner’s insurance policy, was delivered to the U.S. Attorney’s office on Tuesday.

I have investigated the cause and origin of many fires, but this is a new one to me. And that must have been a very special “cigarette” the two men were exchanging.

2. Government not liable for $7 million in damages from Hayman fire
From Examiner.com

DENVER – A judge says the federal government doesn’t have to pay for damage caused by the Hayman wildfire, the worst in Colorado history.

U.S. Forest Service [Fire Prevention Technician] Terry Barton pleaded guilty to starting the fire in 2002 by burning a letter from her estranged husband. Insurance companies then sued the government to recover the approximately $7 million paid out in claims.

U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel ruled Tuesday that the government is only liable for the actions of its employees if they are performing within the scope of their duties.

Daniel said Barton violated a fire ban by the Forest Service when she burned the letter in a fire ring. He said he didn’t think she intended for the fire to spread beyond the ring.

3. Cause determined for Spokane fire that destroyed 12 homes.

A fire in the Spokane, Washington area last summer destroyed 12 homes, cost $3 million to suppress, and did $50 million in property damage. An investigation recently concluded determined that it was caused by a 16-year old boy’s campfire. The boy had permission from the landowner for the fire which was built in a fire pit that had been used many times before. However, the fire was illegal because burning restrictions were in effect.

The county prosecutor’s office and the attorney general’s office will decide if anyone will be charged with a crime and if they will pursue cost recovery.

4. Bullet fragments caused fire near Fort Collins

Investigators determined that a 90-acre fire currently burning 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado was caused by bullet fragments. The Paradise fire started Monday and is 50% contained.

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