He alleges that crews failed to remove debris from a previous clearing project, and that it left fuel on the ground for the fire to start and spread.

“They failed to remove that debris, which created a fire hazard,” Dow said. “We believe the forest service is negligent in starting that fire.”

Matt Howerton

KOAT

Attorney says forest service is stonewalling Dog Head Fire victims

An Albuquerque lawyer representing 23 people who lost homes, property, and land in the devastating Dog Head Fire says the US Forest Service is withholding pertinent information that could help his clients accurately fulfill and submit their claims for damages.

A year ago, a fire started by a masticator (mulching machine) erupted in the Manzano Mountains. It destroyed a dozen homes and scorched nearly 18,000 acres.

The forest service says crews were using the machine as part of a federally funded wildland brush and wood clearing effort.

To this day, residents who lost the most have yet to see any compensation from the feds.

Mark Dow, is representing those people. He says that his clients are made up of ranchers, land owners, and homeowners.

For the past year, he has been planning to submit each person’s individual claim for damages as a collective group.

However, he claims the forest service is not being very helpful when it comes to that endeavor.

“These property owners feel like the forest service is intentionally stonewalling them,” Dow said.

Dow says an investigative report prepared by Forest Service Law Enforcement isn’t being handed over by the Department of Agriculture to his firm or clients.

In a letter to Dow’s firm, the USDA says that it won’t release the report due to attorney-client privilege.

Dow says that the report, may in fact prove that crews could have prevented the tragedy from happening.

He alleges that crews failed to remove debris from a previous clearing project, and that it left fuel on the ground for the fire to start and spread.

“They failed to remove that debris, which created a fire hazard,” Dow said. “We believe the forest service is negligent in starting that fire.”

And per Dow, that report is crucial if residents want to file claims and get paid anytime soon.

“To file that claim, you must be able to say what the US Forest Service did wrong or why they were negligent,” he says. “And you have to have proof.”

Dow is now taking legal avenues to try and get the report released.

In the meantime, many affected by the fire have yet to start a new chapter of their life—as they wait for this one to close.

“They’re just stonewalling them instead of sitting down at a table and saying what really happened,” Dow says.

An e-mail to the forest service requesting a comment had not been returned at the time this article was written.


Free Range Report

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