Washoe Valley residents whose homes and property were damaged or destroyed in the Little Valley Fire are seeking more than $20 million in damages from the state.
The fire started as a controlled burn Oct. 3 in Little Valley, specifically the Whittell Forest and Wildlife Area on the west side of Washoe Valley.
The controlled burn was completed Oct. 7 but hot spots reignited in the wee hours of Oct. 14 amid powerful winds gusting to more than 80 mph. The blaze escaped from fire crews and expanded into the Franktown Road area, eventually burning 3,400 acres and destroying or seriously damaging 23 homes.
In addition to five separate complaints filed in Washoe District Court, there are seven administrative claims filed with the Attorney General’s office.
All argue the fire was caused by bad planning, control and supervision. The complaints say the state didn’t take into account the drought conditions in that area or the extreme likelihood of serious winds.
“As a result of defendants’ acts and omissions, plaintiffs have suffered damage to their real and personal property interests including a loss of value of their property, the loss of the use and enjoyment of their property,” states the complaint filed on behalf of more than a dozen individual owners and families.
The complaints accuse the state of several things including gross negligence, strict liability for hazardous activity and inverse condemnation — the argument plaintiffs’ private property was “taken or damaged for a public use without just compensation to the owner.”
“The defendants’ conduct of starting a prescribed fire in close proximity to a residential area is inherently and unavoidably dangerous in that its very nature involves a high degree of risk of harm to others due to the nature of a wildland fire,” argues one of the complaints, charging the state with “willful and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of plaintiffs.”
Most of the complaints seek damages “in excess of $15,000” — standard language that doesn’t identify exactly how much each property owner is seeking.
But the complaint filed on behalf of Roger Primm specifically charges the state’s failure to manage the fire caused “the loss of homes, outbuildings, landscaping and land valued in excess of $80 million.”
“The home, outbuildings, landscaping and timber owned by the Plaintiffs at 5100 Franktown Road was completely damaged at a value in excess of $1 million,” the complaint states.
The complaint filed on behalf of Shirley McDermott claims a loss in home, outbuildings and landscaping at 5545 Franktown Road totaling $8 million. Finally, Edward and Betty Scott filed a complaint charging their property at 5905 Franktown Road suffered $10 million in damages.
Altogether, claims filed thus far on behalf of two-dozen property owners total $20,096,643.71.
That doesn’t include the demands included in four of the complaints that don’t specify a dollar amount of damage.
The state’s insurance policy has a $2 million deductible — or what the state calls a self-insured retention policy — that would have to be paid before insurance kicks in. After that, the state is covered for up to $25 million in damages. Anything above that total would, again, be the state’s problem.
The Attorney General’s office is expected to ask the court to consolidate the complaints into a single case.