Cohoe wildfire trial put off again

Settlement in the works to cover costs of firefighting

Posted: Friday, March 23, 2007

Once again, setting a trial date in last summer’s Cohoe Loop wildfire case was put off Thursday morning.

Judge Suzanne Lombardi, presiding in Kenai District Court in place of ousted Judge David Landry, set the matter for trial call at 8:30 a.m., April 5.

The case involves the state’s demand that Cohoe resident Brenda Cameron pay the cost of firefighter response to the wildfire she is blamed with starting May 22.

Cameron has said she was burning brush in an attempt to finish creating a defensible perimeter around the house where she has lived for three years with her daughter and two sons. She said something in the brush pile “exploded,” causing the fire to spread out of control.

The fire eventually burned 67 acres.

Kenai District Attorney June Stein charged Cameron with three misdemeanor counts under the Alaska statute, which states, “the escape of fire is presumptive evidence of negligence by the person responsible for starting the fire, and unless rebutted is sufficient to sustain a conviction.”

In other words, because the fire escaped Cameron’s control, she was negligent.

Cameron’s lawyer, Joe Skrha, told the court Thursday he has prepared a settlement offer (through Cameron’s insurance company) to the state, but has not heard back from the district attorney. He said earlier he is seeking to have the criminal charges dropped.

Damage claims in another wildfire accidentally started last summer near Nenana have exceeded $14 million, according to an Associated Press article Monday.

The district attorney in that case decided not to criminally charge Thad Kolwicz, who reportedly dumped ash from a burn barrel used the previous day, starting the June 7 fire at his home at Mile 290.8 of the Parks Highway. The fire burned through the summer.

Kolwicz has stated in court filings he has no money or assets to add to $340,000 his insurance company is willing to pay.

The state, a Native village corporation and at least five families who lost cabins and outbuildings in the fire are seeking money. A settlement hearing is set for April.

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