USA — The federal government argued that Boy Scouts playing with fire caused a 14,200-acre wildfire and wants a judge to hold them responsible, allowing officials to seek damages.
In court documents, the government said it would decide whether to seek damages after a ruling is made. It says the June 2002 wildfire in northeastern Utah cost more than $12 million to control.
A Forest Service investigator pinpointed the fire’s origin to an area where Scouts had stayed overnight, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Overby said in federal court Thursday.
At the time of the blaze, a fire ban was in effect because of dry conditions. In court documents, the Scouts maintain they were not aware of a formal fire ban and thought small pit fires were allowed.
In depositions, Scouts testified they were playing with fire, even offering a teenage counselor candy in return for setting one, Overby said.
The council’s attorney, Robert Wallace, said the Forest Service investigator could be wrong about the cause. He said that the Scouts extinguished their fires and that someone else may have caused the wildfire. He also said Scouts slept at the site and neither felt heat nor smelled smoke.
The government claims the Great Salt Lake Council was negligent in allowing the Scouts to camp without adult supervision. There were 17 Scouts, ages 12 to 14, being supervised by two 15-year-olds, Overby said.
U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell did not rule Thursday on the government’s request for summary judgment. The Scouts are seeking a jury trial.