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Families sue Forest Service over Pole Creek Fire

By Robert Stevens 

Managing editor

1-9-2020

 

Property owners impacted by the 2018 Pole Creek Fire feel like they got burned by the U.S. Forest Service.

At least four different families who lived on or owned property in the area affected by the fire are taking the U.S. Forest Service to court for what they claim to be reckless decisions that led to damages to their property.

“The U.S. Forest Service made a fateful decision to allow a wildfire to burn on Mount Nebo near Spanish Fork,” wrote Frank Carroll, a managing partner with the law firm, Professional Forest Management, in an email to the Messenger. “A week later, the Pole Creek Fire and its sister fire on Bald Mountain escaped and caused millions of dollars in damage to private property and state lands and resources.”

According to Carroll, forest officers made a decision on Sept. 6, 2018, to allow a 40-foot log to smolder and burn. The decision was based on the Forest Service’s policy of allowing “unplanned fire to burn in the right place at the right time,” which Carroll’s law firm insists is poor planning.

He says the fires cost the public more than $30 million dollars to fight, not including $10 million additional dollars the State of Utah spent to mitigate fire-related flooding on U.S. 89 afterwards.

Carroll says the families he represents are filing claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The act was put in place by Congress to allow harmed parties to make claims for damages and receive compensation from the government if a federal officer makes a mistake which causes the damages. One of the claims is for more than $3 million, and Carroll says he expects more people will pursue legal action as well.

“Management by wildfire is the last policy that Forest Service land managers can apply at will with no oversight from anyone,” Carroll says. “The fate of our federal forests and increasingly widespread damage to private, local, and state government property should not be left to a handful of federal bureaucrats making decisions in the dark of night in smoke-filled rooms.”

The U.S. Forest Service did not respond before the Messenger went to print.