FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The state wants $2.9 million for the cost of controlling the Fish Creek fire on the Tanana Flats last summer, blamed on a helicopter ferrying crews working on the Northern Intertie.
A state report released Thursday said the helicopter started the fire that burned 84,000 acres.
''We've narrowed the focus to three parties,'' said Chris Maisch of the Division of Forestry. The state is negotiating with the parties for cost recovery, Maisch said.
The state did not find any criminal action, Maisch said, but may file a civil suit if a suitable arrangement is not agreed upon.
Maisch did not name the parties and would not discuss negotiation details.
Larry Larrivee, helicopter pilot and owner of Naknek-based Pollux Aviation, said he is one of the parties. He has been asked for $2.5 million.
''I can't even afford legal defense,'' Larrivee said. ''They're probably going to put me out of business.''
Golden Valley Electric Association, a cooperative serving rural Fairbanks, is being asked to pay more than $1 million, said Steve Haagenson, GVEA president.
He said he believed Larrivee and Pollux Aviation are the other parties.
Maisch said the discrepancies between the amounts being required from Larrivee and GVEA are because negotiations are ongoing. The state did not want to put undue pressure on the parties, he said.
According to the state report, Larrivee on June 20 was taking Travis Malin and Butch Bras to work on clearing a portion of right-of-way for GVEA's 100-mile Healy-to-Fairbanks power line about two miles west of the Parks Highway near Clear. Along for the ride was Phillip Crawford, a cook at the Fireweed Roadhouse and a prospective clearing worker.
Upon landing, Crawford, the first person out of the helicopter, saw a fire engulfing brush and grass in an area approximately 3 feet by 3 feet under the exhaust system of the helicopter.
Crawford yelled to Larrivee to take off. The wind from the takeoff caused the fire to grow bigger, said both Crawford and Bras, who had exited the helicopter behind Crawford, the report said.
Clearing crews and the helicopters passengers fought the fire with chain saws, their shirts and other tools while waiting for help. Larrivee reported the fire from his cell phone.
Firefighters battled the blaze most of the summer. The fire, which became known as the Fish Creek Fire, threatened homes along the Parks Highway and a rural subdivision.
Both a state fire investigator and a contractor hired by the state concluded that the only probable source of the fire was the helicopter, a Robinson R44.
The helicopter pilot's operating manual warns against landing in tall, dry grass because the exhaust system gets hot enough to start a fire. The exhaust system is about 19 inches from the ground at its lowest point.
The state is not faulting Robinson Helicopter, Inc. A Robinson R44 is suspected of starting a small fire that was quickly put down near Galena earlier this month.
Larrivee said he does not believe he should be made to pay damages, noting that state biologists who started a 132,000-acre fire near McGrath by shooting exploding firecracker shotgun shells to scare off a moose were not going to be charged.
''It's not fair,'' he said.
GVEA's Haagenson said the cooperative and contractors have insurance, but Larrivee was not sure if he was covered.
Maisch said the state would publicly announce next week further details of the state's intentions.
The same day the Fish Creek fire started, right-of-way workers started another fire. That fire, called the Survey Line Fire, burned more than 100,000 acres of mostly federal land.
A report on that fire is in its final stages and should be released in a week to 10 days, said Scott Billing, manager of the Alaska Fire Service, a division of the Bureau of Land Management.
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