Ranchers Sue Feds over Spread of 2013 Prescribed Burn
Ranchers in northwestern South Dakota are suing the federal government for damages caused by a 2013 prescribed burn that escaped, and ended up burning 17 square miles total, 11 square miles of which was private lands.
According to the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1OjAYru) The Forest Service had intended to burn about one-third of a square mile on the Dakota Prairie National Grasslands, starting on April 3, 2013. Instead, the burn, which became known at the Pautre Fire, spread across 17 square miles, including 11 square miles of privately owned land and took four days to contain it.
Affected landowners previously filed more than $50 million worth of administrative claims that were denied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, triggering a six-month period in which the landowners could file lawsuits. The USDA claimed “no liability on the part of the U.S Goverment” for the fire or the losses it incurred.
However, the two lawsuits, filed last week, allege that the U.S. Forest Service committed numerous errors in its preparation and execution of the fire.
The first lawsuit includes the text of a Rangeland Fire Danger Statement for the prescribed-burn area issued by the weather service more than seven hours before the fire started that stated, “Fires will spread rapidly and show erratic behavior. Outdoor burning is not recommended.”
The second lawsuit is more directly concerned with the damages caused to grassland, hay, crops, soil, fences tress, wildlife, and cattle. It also talks about the costs to ranchers for post-fire clean-up such as invasive week control, rental of alternative pasture, and medical attention for burned/injured cattle.