USA Last summer, the Stouts Creek fire burned for more than a month, scorching more than 26,000 acres. Now the men blamed for starting it are expected to reimburse the government the estimated $37 million it cost to put it out.
The wildfire sparked July 30, 2015, forced evacuations and destroyed timber, said Kyle Reed, a fire prevention specialist at the Douglas County Fire Association. Investigators spent months trying to pinpoint the cause, and their research ultimately pointed to the same men: Dominic Decarlo, 70, of Days Creek, and Cloyd Deardorff, 64, of Yuma, Arizona.
The cause? Their lawnmowers.
At the time, fire restrictions barred any mowing between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. The Stouts Creek fire started in the afternoon.
Both men were cited for unlawful use of fire, Reed said. Deardorff also was cited for unlawful entry into a restricted forestland area, court records show. Decarlo paid $110 in fines and Deardorff paid $440.
But Oregon also holds individuals financially responsible for fire suppression costs, which in this case comes to at least $37 million. The Oregonian/OregonLive was unable to reach either man for comment.
The tally includes the cost of firefighting crews, the helicopters and bulldozers they use, even the food for the firefighters.
Jeff Bonebrake, the fire investigation and cost recovery coordinator for the state department of forestry, said he cannot say when exactly the bill will be ready to send, as the agency is still calculating the final costs.
“We could get finalization in the next several weeks or a few more months,” Bonebrake said.
But once the costs are finalized, the agency will send the two men a demand letter, an invoice with a summary of the costs.
“People always have option to challenge the cost or question their responsibility (in the incident),” he said.
Generally, with a significant fire like this one, the bill either goes to an insurance company or an attorney, and the two parties negotiate a settlement. Or if they can’t come to an agreement, it can lead to a lawsuit.
“Initially we treat it as if we are going to (receive the full amount) … but you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip,” Bonebrake said.
Reed recommends the public to be aware of what the fire restrictions are, and to not get complacent even when temperatures are more mild.
“I don’t want people to let their guard down,” he said.
Bonebrake hopes the case serves as a cautionary tale.
“We’re trying to make people aware that they have some responsibility … so people know there are consequences when you start (a wildfire),” Bonebrake said.