Federal settlements in South Dakota wildfire exceed $700K
RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Landowners in South Dakota have received over $700,000 in a lawsuit accusing a federal agency of burning their properties in an April 2013 prescribed fire that blazed out of control, destroying more than 10,000 acres.
The U.S. Forest Service aimed to eliminate grass, weeds and dead vegetation from about 200 acres (80 hectares) of federally owned land on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands in the state’s northwest. But court documents show the fire blew out of its intended area and destroyed more than 7,000 acres (2,800 hectares) of private land and over 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) of federal land, the Rapid City Journal reported.
Affected landowners filed several lawsuits in 2015 that were eventually consolidated into one. The lawsuit alleges the government failed to execute the fire properly and made mistakes in its preparations.
The latest settlement approved in August awarded $45,000 to Duane and Dawn Harris and Albert Keller. Added to six other settlements that have been agreed since June, the awards so far total $721,000.
The government has not admitted fault in any of the seven settlement agreements.
A motion filed last week by the government awaits a judge’s consideration to dismiss claims by the Grand River Cooperative Grazing Association. The government’s motion says the association’s grazing agreement with the U.S. Forest Service doesn’t hold the government responsible for losses, expenses or liability arising from any accident causing injuries or property damage.
A settlement conference is planned for Nov. 15 to address the remaining cases, though the order does not say which plaintiffs will participate in the conference.
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com