Wildfire settlement reached

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2008

The state Attorney General's office reached an out-of-court settlement Wednesday in the Caribou Hills wildfire incident that blackened more than 55,000 acres and burned 53 cabins last summer.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
KTUU photographer Jason Kohler videotapes a wildfire burning through the Caribou Hills a year ago today.

The criminal charge against Charles Partridge, 61, of Santa Maria, Calif., was dismissed. He had been charged with one count of uncontrolled spread of fire, an unclassified misdemeanor.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Kevin Saxby said Partridge's insurance carrier will make an initial payment of $250,000 and another payment in two years. The amount of the second payment is dependent on the number of damage claims filed in the case, he said.

Partridge is insured by American National Properties and Pacific Property and Casualty, according to Saxby.

Partridge had been cited by the Alaska Division of Forestry after sparks from a grinder he was using to sharpen a shovel June 19 ignited grass and the fire spread off the property where he was working, according to the charging document.

A former Soldotna resident, Partridge said he was helping build a cabin for his son in the Caribou Hills area east of Ninilchik.

High winds and low humidity fanned the blaze, at one point making it the number-one fire-fighting priority in the nation. It eventually burned at least 53 cabins and residences, 79 outbuildings and 55,648 acres of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge wilderness area. The wildfire did not result in any injuries.

Firefighters worked more than two weeks to contain the fire and were demobilized July 6, when officials placed the fire in monitor status to aid resource management of the wilderness area.

Kenai District Attorney June Stein said the damage caused by the fire would not be covered by Partridge's insurance if it stemmed from a criminal act.

The civil settlement "is a way for victims to get some compensation," Stein said.

What the insurance company could pay is in the millions versus the amount he could pay as an individual, she said.

When asked if he was satisfied with the amount of the settlement, Saxby said, "The state settled within the terms it wanted."

He said a number of claims from Caribou Hills property owners have already been brought.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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