AP NEWS

3 settle suits over prescribed burn that became a wildfire

June 23, 2019

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Three landowners from northwestern South Dakota who sued the federal government for a 2013 prescribed burn near the Dakotas border that turned into a wildfire have settled their cases.

The settlement deals were filed for a total of $241,000, following several days of mediation sessions, the Rapid City Journal reported .

The agreements say the government will pay $90,000 to Vincent and Susan Gunn, $81,000 to Duane Meink and $70,000 to the Darci D. Feifer Limited Partnership, of which David and Lori Bossman are general partners.

Meink told the newspaper in a phone interview that he is glad to have the matter resolved.

“I thought we should’ve gotten a little more, but it wasn’t that bad,” Meink said. “I’m not really complaining.”

The prescribed burn was lit by the U.S. Forest Service on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands in the Lemmon, South Dakota and Hettinger, North Dakota area. It was meant to cover 210 acres of federally owned land, but it became a wildfire that burned for several days and destroyed pasture land for cattle.

Affected landowners filed more than $50 million worth of administrative claims that were denied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Landowners then filed multiple lawsuits in 2015, which were eventually consolidated into one case.

Although reports of the wildfire’s acreage varied, court documents say it burned 3,519 acres of federally owned land and 7,160 acres of privately owned land before it was brought under control. That’s a total of 10,679 acres, which is equivalent to nearly 17 square miles.

The lawsuits alleged that the Forest Service erred in its preparation and execution of the prescribed burn, including a failure to heed vital weather information. But the government is not admitting any liability or fault as part of the three recently filed settlement agreements.

Several cases are still unresolved. Attorney Alan Saltman said by phone this week that he is representing seven plaintiffs who did not take part in the recent mediation session but expect to participate in mediation within a month or two.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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