GABE STERN Associated Press/Report for America
RENO, Nev. (AP) — People who lost their homes and property in last summer’s Tamarack Fire in northern Nevada and California have filed a claim against the U.S. Forest Service seeking more than $85 million.
The filing by attorney William Jeanney of Reno on behalf of 27 claimants is the first step before filing a lawsuit. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the U.S. Forest Service has six months to either pay the claim or opt out, and face a potential lawsuit.
There’s no chance the U.S. Forest Service will pay the claim outright, Jeanney said, “not unless you believe in the yellow brick road.”
“The day after the six months, we’ll be prepared to file the lawsuit,” he added.
The U.S. Forest Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening.
Twelve of the claimants are from Douglas County, while the rest were Alpine County residents, according to The Nevada Appeal, which first reported the filing.
The Tamarack Fire started on July 4, 2021 when lightning hit a tree in the Mokelumne Wilderness in Alpine County, California. The U.S. Forest Service initially decided to hold off on providing assistance on the Tamarack Fire as it struggled with limited resources and officials perceived the fire as contained to a small area. But soon, the fire spread rapidly, eventually scorching nearly 109 square miles (282 square kilometers) along the Nevada-California border.
The governors of both states said the U.S. Forest Service was hampered by insufficient staffing, forcing officials to make difficult decisions about where to direct resources.
The fire damage was concentrated in Douglas County, Nevada and Alpine County. Authorities from both counties evacuated nearly 2,000 people in 15 communities.
Each of the 27 claimants have varying amounts of damage – ranging from less than $500,000 to more than $15 million, Jeanney said. Some lost trees and acreage; others lost their homes, clothes and most of their personal belongings.
Some of the claimants were retirees who are now back in the workforce, and others are attempting to rebuild their homes but have trouble getting home insurance, Jeanney said. One of his clients is now living in a tent on her property.
Jeanney added that the process for compensation may not come for three to five years if the lawsuit drags on.
Until then, getting temporary help may be hard for those recovering from the fire.
“We’re turning over a lot of rocks to see whatever help we can get for them,” he said. “But it’s just a tough time. There’s a lot of people in the United States who are having a tough time right now.”
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Stern on Twitter @gabestern326.