Heat is off Cohoe woman

State drops charges against resident who started wildfire

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pending receipt of the money, the state has agreed to drop all criminal charges against the woman accused of starting a wildfire off Cohoe Loop last year.

In Ken ai District Court on Friday, defense attorney Joe Ray Skrha said Brenda Cameron's insurance company agreed to pay $83,761 as settlement in the case in exchange for the state dropping the three misdemeanor charges against her: being in violation of terms of a burn permit, inadequate fire break and uncontrolled spread/damage to the property of another.

The charges against Cameron, 45, came in the aftermath of the wildfire that started when a brush pile fire she was burning reportedly got away from her.

The Alaska Division of Forestry, by state statute, may bill the person responsible for starting a wildfire as much as twice the cost of the initial response.

The cost of the initial attack, according to Patrick Quiner, fire prevention officer, would include the cost of Central Emergency Services responders, two helicopters, multiple air tanker flights and the retardant they dropped, and the smoke jumpers who came in to help battle the blaze.

According to the settlement agreement, Umialik Insurance Company offered to pay $80,761 to the state and $3,000 to Steven Smith, who submitted a claim for property damaged in the fire, as well as a portion of Skrha's attorney fees.

"We're awaiting notice from the attorney general that the money has been received," said Assistant District Attorney Will Walton on Friday.

Skrha said the insurance company mailed checks to him and the state on the same day.

"I received mine about 10 days ago," he said.

Pending final resolution of the case, Magistrate Jerry Anderson set another hearing date for Sept. 25, saying the date would be vacated if the matter is resolved ahead of time.

At an earlier hearing, Skrha stressed that his client "had insurance ... she had a burn permit."

"A shock absorber left in her burn pit by a previous owner blew up and caused the spread of this fire," Skrha said. "(Cameron) was standing there with water all the time. She did not leave the fire. She called 911.

"She did not do anything criminal," he said.

The fire, which began May 22, 2006, burned for more than a week through a heavily forested area of Cohoe Loop, burning at least one shed, according to one report. No one was injured in the fire.

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

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