Roosevelt Fire victims prepare to beat statute of limitations

File photo 747 drops retardant over the Roosevelt Fire two years ago.

A Colorado wildfire consultant

is helping at least 30 clients from the Hoback Ranches

submit their federal tort claims against the U.S. Forest

Service for millions in property damages allegedly caused

by its handling of the 2018 Roosevelt Fire.

Frank Carroll of Professional Fire Management based in

Pueblo spoke on the record in a Sept. 16 phone call.

The Roosevelt Fire was reported south of Bondurant

on Sept. 15, when two Rock Springs hunters – Steve and

Dakota Knezovich – found and reported a small warming

fire near Grizzly Creek in the Roosevelt Meadows area of

the Wyoming Range.

They believed the growing fire was being fought but the

next day they had to travel through it, leaving Roosevelt

Meadows and following the Hoback River to the Upper

Hoback trailhead. Both were transported to St. John’s

Hospital for emergency treatment of serious and severe burns

and then moved to other hospitals for more intensive care.

About 16 more hunters, most in the mountains for the

opening of deer-hunting season, also were evacuated after

the fire blew up quickly. Soon Hoback Ranches’ residents

were asked to evacuate and as the fire raged uncontrolled,

people in Bondurant and Jim Bridger Estates were advised

to evacuate.

By Sept. 20, 2018, the Roosevelt Fire had grown to almost

32,000 acres and three days later, it covered 48,348 acres. In

the end it destroyed 55 private buildings of Hoback Ranches’

153 total homes on private property. A total of 61,511 acres

of private land and Bridger-Teton National Forest was

burned.

Personal injury

The Knezoviches filed a personal injury claim against

the Forest Service Federal Tort Claims Act before Sept.

15, inside the two-year statute of limitations, according

to Carroll. These are the first to be filed of about 30 more

damage claims expected against the Forest Service by Sept.

22, which Carroll said seek more than $100 million from the

Forest Service.

Carroll said he is working with Missoula attorney Quentin

Rhoades to complete in-depth reports to send with their

tort damages claims “en masse” to the Forest Service’s

Intermountain Region 4 Office. Rhoades did not respond to

phone messages from the Pinedale Roundup.

“They know they are coming,” Carroll said of the Forest

Service. “The two hunters’ claim was already filed.”

Carroll, who worked for the Forest Service for 31 years,

said he now does “wildfire post-mortems” to see whether

Forest Service actions – in this case during the Roosevelt

Fire’s early days – “was appropriate … or if they were

making a decision about private property (burning) for

management purposes.”

“We are literally working day and night to send these

reports to (Rhoades’ office in) Missoula,” Carroll said.

BTNF’s Mary Cernicek said tort claims would not be

submitted to the Supervisor’s Office in Jackson.

National Press Officer Babette Anderson emailed the

Roundup on Thursday morning, saying, “I’m reaching out

to the appropriate staff to assist with your question” about

the Knezoviches’ claim.

Federal Tort Claims Act

The Federal Tort Claims Act “provides for consideration

of claims against the U.S. for damage to or loss of personal

property, personal injury or death caused by the negligent

or wrongful act or omission of an employee of the United

States while acting within the scope of employment, under

circumstances where the U.S if a private person, would be

liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place

where the act of omission occurred.”

Claims are filled out on Standard Form 95 with “sum

certain” amount of money sought in damages. They would

be processed at the Forest Service’s Albuquerque, N.M.

office and investigated at the U.S. Department of Agriculture

in Washington, D.C.

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