Forest Service Held Not Liable For Fire Damage To Adjacent Ranch

Your Government counsel.™

A court recently held that the evidence did not show that the Forest Service had failed to take action to prevent a dangerous wildfire which then burned land on an adjacent private ranch in Colorado.  Under Colorado law, a landowner must address dangerous situations on its land it is aware of in order to prevent damage to adjacent landowners.  However, the Court’s decision hinged on the lack of evidence showing that the Forest Service had been notified of the fire.

The fire occurred in 2011 on the San Isabel National Forest and burned several thousand acres of the Forest as well as 700 acres of the Trail’s End Ranch which was adjacent to the Forest.  The ranch owners later sued, claiming that the fire could have been prevented if the Forest Service had responded to a call by a representative of Trails End Ranch of an illegal campfire which was later found to have caused the fire.  The Ranch employee claimed that he had called and spoke to a Forest Service employee who told him that they had received other reports of smoke and were looking into the matter.  The Forest Service, however, claimed that it never received the call.

The Court concluded that the evidence did not support the Ranch employee’s claim that he made the phone call given that the phone system as functioning normally and there was no other evidence of a call being received.  The Court further held that, even if the call had been made, the evidence did not show that the Forest Service would have located or prevented the fire because the call likely would have been handled by law enforcement officials.

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