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Limiting Liability: States React to Large Recoveries For Escaped Wildfires

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Limiting Liability

States React to Large Recoveries For Escaped Wildfires

Many state laws providing for the recovery of damages caused by escaped wildfire were enacted at the time when such fires were quickly extinguished and mostly occurred away from populated areas. In recent years, declining public budgets have resulted in decreased funding for forest management and firefighting costs, and more Americans have chosen to live in and around forested areas, many of which have become dryer and more flammable.

Against this backdrop, the U.S. Department of Justice has become increasingly aggressive in using state laws to recover damages when fire escapes from private lands to damage federal property.

Last summer featured some jaw-dropping headlines involving a high-profile case brought by the Department of Justice against California’s largest private landholder, Sierra Pacific Industries, Inc. (SPI). In that case, the federal government sought to recover damages reportedly approaching $1 billion resulting from the Moonlight Fire that burned 46,000 acres of timberlands in two national forests. The fire allegedly started on and then escaped from private land (albeit not land owned by SPI) while being harvested by a logger under contract to SPI.
 
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Published in July/August 2013 Issue of Forest Landowner Magazine

 

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