Insurers, Wyoming Man Will Pay $2.9M for 2012 Wildfire

By MEAD GRUVER | September 21, 2015

A man who accidentally started a 2012 wildfire that burned over a mountain and threatened the town of Jackson has agreed to a $2.9 million payment under a legal settlement.

James G. Anderson Jr., 79, will be responsible for $425,000. Insurance companies State Farm and Mountain West Farm Bureau will pick up the rest, the U.S. attorney’s office for Wyoming announced Friday.

The money will reimburse the federal and state governments for firefighting costs and damages.

“While nothing can undo the damage that was done to the forest, this settlement sends a message that we are serious about holding those who cause fires accountable,” U.S. Attorney Christopher “Kip” Crofts said in a news release.

Horsethief Fire. Photo credit: David Cernicek and
Horsethief Fire. Photo credit: David Cernicek and

The agreement came three years to the week after the Horsethief Canyon Fire burned 5 square miles of forest and threatened to burn into Jackson. For a time, 1,000 Jackson residents were advised to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The settlement will keep the matter out of civil court and criminal charges won’t be filed, said John Powell, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.

“There was, as we understand, no intent to start the fire,” Powell said.

Lightning, not people, causes most wildfires in the West. Holding a person financially responsible for an accidental wildfire is especially unusual.

Investigators determined the fire started when Anderson was burning twigs and paper in a rusty barrel at his son’s home. Flames spread from the rusted-out bottom of the barrel.

Anderson told investigators he had been watching football and called 911 after he saw smoke outside through a garage window, according to the investigation report.

The U.S. Forest Service sent Anderson a bill for $6.3 million in 2013. The amount Anderson and his insurance policies will pay is much less, noted his attorney, Richard Mulligan.

“It was unfortunate that he found himself in that predicament. He’s a nice man,” Mulligan said. “But we’re relatively happy with the outcome.”

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