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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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National Guard Blamed for Wildfire

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (CN) - Ranchers sued the Colorado National Guard for $7 million, claiming its ammunition and explosives started fires that burned 2,000 acres, killed cattle and wildlife, destroyed habitat and polluted streams.

Kevin and Susan Rothschild, of Fort Collins, Colo., own Bulls Bend Ranch, a 5,000-acre spread in Platte County, Wyo., about 100 miles north of Cheyenne. The ranch abuts the Army's Camp Guernsey.

In July 2013, despite a drought-related burning ban ordered by Platte County, which "banned all fires and other activities which could cause fires," the Colorado National Guard conducted training exercises at the camp, using live rounds.

The rounds caused "one or more" fires to ignite, which spread to Bulls Bend Ranch, burning 1,000 acres of grazing land and another 1,000 acres of timberland.

The Rothschilds claim that the National Guard knew very well of the risks of using live rounds, it had no emergency or response plans in case of a fire.

"The defendants collectively knew of the risk and danger in using live ammunition and explosives in an area that was prone to be dry, yet they proceeded to use explosives and other fire-causing materials that ignited a substantial fire, which caused damage to the property," the complaint states. "The defendants were further negligent, irresponsible, reckless and acted without regard for plaintiff's property by not having any fire extinguishing equipment or other controls in place to control and minimize the risk of fire from their activities."

The Rothschilds say the fires resulted in dead cattle carcasses rotting on their property, dead fish in streams and rivers, destruction of wildlife habitat, burned standing timber and erosion, with silt and ash flowing into streams.

It wasn't the first time. In 2006, the Tracer Fire, caused by the Army's firing live rounds into dry grass, burned more than 13,000 acres of grazing land and timber, killing thousands of healthy trees, according to the complaint.

"The only conclusion that can be reached is that the training procedures with the National Guard and the Department of the Army have been shoddy, neglectful and poorly supervised," the ranchers say.

The long list of defendants includes the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, Attorney General Eric Holder, Wyoming U.S. Attorney Christopher Crofts, the Colorado Army National Guard, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Department of Army Headquarters, 4th Infantry Division, and Fort Carson, Office of the State Judge Advocate.

The Rothschilds sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and seek $6,773,703.00 for loss of cattle, feed, timber and property claim, and another $300,000 for breach of contract caused by the U.S. government's failure to provide fencing along the property line, as promised.

They are represented by John Kuker, in Cheyenne.

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