Ranchers Sue National Guard, Federal and State Governments For $6.8 Million Over Damages From Fires
Colorado Army National Guard troops training at Camp Guernsey in 2012 used ammunition and explosives that caused the 22-square-mile Sawmill Canyon Fire that also scorched thousands of acres of a nearby ranch.
Kevin and Susan Rothschild, who have owned the 5,000-acre Bulls Bend Ranch, LLLP, for 20 years, are demanding nearly $6.8 million in damages from the National Guard and other defendants, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court on Monday.
"The Defendants were further negligent, irresponsible, reckless, and acted without regard to plaintiff's property by not having any fire extinguishing equipment or other controls in place to control and minimize the risk of fire from their activities," according to the complaint filed by the Cheyenne law firm the Kuker Group, which represents the Rothschilds.
The fire that began on July 15, 2012, and spread to their ranch fire miles south of Glendo:
- Burned 1,000 acres of prime timberland.
- Permanently destroyed more than 1,000 acres of prime grazing land.
- Left behind rotting carcasses.
- Killed fish in streams and the North Platte River.
- Substantially destroyed wildlife habitat.
- Left burned standing timber as an ugly eyesore.
- Caused erosion with silt and ash flowing into streams.
- Caused the loss of natural beauty.
- Caused $6,773,703 in damages based on several market value analyses.
The National Guard knew better, according to the complaint.
On June 19, extreme drought conditions prompted the Platte County Commission to issue a ban on all activities that could cause fires. An exception was made for Camp Guernsey, but any costs of extinguishing out-of-control, man-made burns caused by this exception would be paid for by the Wyoming Military Department.
National Guard actions have caused other substantial fires, according to the complaint.
For example, troops in 2006 fired live rounds into dry grass on a windy day causing the "Tracer Fire" that destroyed more than 13,000 acres of grazing land and timberland, according to the complaint. "The only conclusion that can be reached is that the training procedures with the National Guard and the Department of the Army have been shoddy, neglectful, and poorly supervised."
The Rothschilds filed timely complaints under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and the defendants acknowledged the complaints.
They gave the defendants more than six months to respond. Other claims caused by the same fire have been settled, but not that of the Rothschilds.
Before the fire occurred, the Rothschilds met with federal authorities to straighten the jagged property line between the their property and that belonging to the government through surveying and deed exchanges. The Army promised $300,000 worth of fencing would be installed along the boundary, but the government reneged. This issue is separate from the fire claim, but it illustrates the breach of trust with the Army, according to the complaint.
That $300,000 in damages is in addition to an earlier separate claim for $119,156 for loss of livestock, and the main claim of $6,773,703 for the fire-caused damage on the ranch.
The defendants are the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney for Wyoming, the Colorado Army National Guard, the Wyoming Military Department, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Department of Army Headquarters 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson Office of the State Judge Advocate, and unidentified John Doe(s) National Guardsmen.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson.