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The Sanpete Messenger

More families join lawsuit against Forest Service Pole Creek Fire management

Cattlemen and residents along the U.S. 89 corridor evacuate during the wildfires of 2018. A dozen property owners affected by the Pole Creek Fire are now onboard with a lawsuit against the Forest Service for the handling of the blaze.

 

More families join lawsuit against Forest Service Pole Creek Fire management

 

By Robert Stevens

Managing editor

2-6-2020

 

The lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service over alleged mismanagement of the 2018 Pole Creek Fire continues to smolder.

According to Franklin Carroll, managing partner at Professional Forest Management, a law organization specializing in wildfire consultancy, two new property owners have gotten on board with the lawsuit.

The two new claims total more than $5 million in damages, but Carroll says there are a total of 12 claims so far in the lawsuit. Four claimants are property owners along U.S. 89, seven are from Elk Ridge and one is from Woodland Hills.

Carroll claims the Forest Service was responsible, directly or indirectly, for three major issues which impacted his clients. The first was allowing a 40-foot long log to burn as part of a “controlled burn” effort. The second was numerous burnouts meant to help get the fires under control, but Carroll claims they did extensive property damage. Finally, the flooding caused by runoff after the fire caused enormous damage as well, Carroll says.

“No matter what their intent or objectives, no matter what other conditions obtained including climate change or any other factor, the fire by their own admission was safe enough for them to walk in to and to then abandon in the rain,” Carroll says. “They could have put it out. They did not.”

Carroll claims the Forest Service does not dispute the core facts of his client’s claims. He says the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will determine whether damages are awarded on the basis of the claims.

“In our experience, USDA will settle with all of the aggrieved parties based on the first point alone,” he says. “The fire was well under control and firefighters walked away in the rain.”

Carroll says the process his clients are using to make these claims, the Tort Claim, is designed exactly for situations like this.

“Government officers acted,” Carroll said. “Their action either purposefully or inadvertently caused harm. The public is then invited to seek redress and compensation for the harms caused. It’s simple. It’s an important recourse to government action granted by the government. And it does not blame the participating officers in cases where they follow law, regulation, and policy, as officers in this case certainly did.”