Two lawsuits have been filed in federal court for firing operations that burned private land during the Chetco Bar Fire that eventually burned more than 191,000 acres on land managed by the US Forest Service and private landowners in southwest Oregon.
The suit, under the Tucker Act for inverse condemnation, seeks compensation for “property taken” by the USFS in its use and management of the Chetco Bar Fire. It alleges that between August 17 and 20, 2017 the USFS conducted firing operations on their property “to achieve its natural resource management objectives, and to otherwise manage its lands”.
“USFS employed planned ignitions in the form of large-scale backfires designed to artificially grow the naturally occurring wildfire to sizes much larger than if it has been left to burn naturally,” say the two complaints filed October 21. “The large-scale planned ignitions on the Chetco Bar Fire ignored political and property boundaries and used Plaintiffs’ nonfederal resources as backfire fuel, imposing the costs of the natural resource management objectives upon Plaintiffs.”
The Chetco Bar Fire started from a lightning strike during a storm on June 24 and 25, 2017 and was first reported by an airline pilot 17 days later on July 12.
The attorney representing the landowners is Quentin Rhodes in Missoula, who is not your typical barrister. He worked as a wildland firefighter for eight seasons between 1987 and 1994, serving on the Helena Hotshot crew and later as a smokejumper at West Yellowstone and Missoula. He told Wildfire Today in 2012 that he was in the first planeload of jumpers on the South Canyon Fire in Colorado in 1994, the fatal fire on which 14 wildland firefighters were entrapped and killed. In 2012 he represented owners of a Montana ranch who won a $750,000 judgement against the state of Montana when firefighters on the Ryan Gulch Fire employed firing operations which burned 900 acres of the ranch’s land.