Gravel Company Seeks Damages Recovery from Military for N.J. Blaze

September 25, 2007

Four homes were destroyed and 37 other damaged by a raging forest fire in the Pinelands last May, but a sand and gravel company is seeking more than 98 percent of the damages sought from the military for causing the blaze.

Phoenix Pinelands Corp. is seeking nearly $197 million from the Air Force, whose pilot mistakenly dropped a flare into tinder-dry woods during a training exercise.

The company is seeking $187 million for damage to 260 acres of “mineral reserve land,” and $9.8 million for 200 acres of burned forest.

About $200 million in claims have been filed against the Air Force stemming from the blaze.

Prolonged exposure to heat as the result of fire can be economically devastating to a sand and gravel mining operation, Hugh Miller, a professor of mine engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, told the Asbury Park Press for Friday’s newspapers.

“What occurs partially with raw materials is that there’s a real tight specification with products and what customers want,” he said. “When things get hot, their physical properties change.”

Air Force Lt. Col. Melinda Davis-Perritano told the Press of Atlantic City that the total payout to claimants will likely be less than $200 million.

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