DENVER (LAWFUEL) – The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Forest Service announced today that a settlement agreement has been reached to compensate the government for expenses related to the suppression of the 2003 “Alta Fire” in the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest. The agreement is between the United States Department of Agriculture – U.S. Forest Service, and John D. “Jack” Wesson, Matthew Dwight Allen, and State Farm Insurance. Both Wesson and Allen are responsible to jointly and severally pay a total of $300,000 in fire suppression costs. Wesson’s homeowner’s insurance will provide the compensation.
On or about July 10, 2003, on National Forest Systems lands, Wesson and Allen allegedly exchanged and then lit a cigarette lighter in violation of a fire ban imposed by San Miguel County. The Forest Service alleges that the open flame of the lighter ignited aspen cotton fluff floating in the surrounding air, which then developed into a 120-acre fire, known as the Alta Fire, approximately four miles south of Telluride.
The settlement agreement, which is not to be construed as an admission of liability, covers all claims the Forest Service may have against Wesson and Allen regarding the Alta Fire.
“And all because of a cigarette lighter,” said United States Attorney Troy Eid.
“Fire bans are not issued frivolously by government agencies,” said Jackie Parks, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region Acting Deputy Regional Forester. “As we have seen previously in our region, failure to observe these bans can have devastating impacts and result in high suppression costs. I am pleased that we have been able to recoup some of these taxpayer costs.”
The U.S. Forest Service worked with individuals and crews from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), San Miguel Sheriff’s Office, and the Telluride Fire Protection District to suppress the Alta Fire. Following an investigation into the cause of the fire, Ken Pitt, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of General Counsel, Mountain Region, and Amanda Rocque, Assistant U.S. Attorney, negotiated the settlement agreement