Homeowners to sue over midvalley fire | AspenTimes.com

Homeowners to sue over midvalley fire

Some of the homeowners who had their property scorched by the Panorama fire in Missouri Heights last July plan to file a lawsuit against the parties allegedly responsible.

Attorney Matt Ferguson of Garfield and Hecht confirmed that he is representing about 12 homeowners of the Spring Park Meadows and Homestead Acres subdivisions.

A claim or claims will be filed within the next few months against two construction firms that were building a house where the fire broke out, Ferguson said. He identified the firms as Gaizley Construction, the general contractor, and Mendoza Concrete.

The basis of the claim, Ferguson said, is that the property owners suffered “significant diminished value” due to the wildfire. While none of his clients suffered the loss of their homes, some of them received damage to structures, and all of them had the vegetation on and around their land fried.

The property damage was generally covered by insurance companies. But there is no insurance for diminished property value and its causes, Ferguson said.

Homes once secluded and screened by lush, green vegetation are now exposed. Sage- and oak-covered hillsides are now barren. Only blackened skeletons of bushes remain.

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Residents have endured dust storms, and erosion will be a threat until grasses take hold and brush returns.

While a loss of home or property is easy to determine, diminished value of property is more difficult to calculate, Ferguson said.

Two houses were destroyed by the Panorama fire along with a residential tepee. Two other houses and numerous sheds, barns and garages were damaged.

Ferguson said all of his clients were in harm’s way. “It was miraculous more homes weren’t destroyed,” he said.

The fire broke out July 31 when a crew from Mendoza Concrete of Carbondale was working on the foundation of a house at 805 Buck Point Drive in the Panorama Estates subdivision of Missouri Heights.

Investigators with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office concluded that a fire broke out after steel rebar was cut with a saw. Somehow a fire was sparked in the dry grass and brush surrounding the site. The fire quickly spread in the drought-stricken high ground north of Carbondale.

Winds whipped 90-foot flames to the north-northeast into Eagle County. Several structures in Spring Park Meadows, a newer subdivision with large lots, and the older Homestead Acres were threatened. Homestead is about four miles from El Jebel.

Firefighters from Basalt and Carbondale scrambled to save numerous homes with the help of Western Slope agencies. Federal officials sent in slurry bombers that dropped numerous loads of retardant on and around homes.

The fire charred about 1,600 acres before it was contained. Local fire departments spent an estimated $400,000 snuffing the flames.

Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri intended to pursue charges of fourth-degree arson against members of the Mendoza Concrete crew. However, the two workers suspected of operating the saw fled before they could be questioned, he said.

The men were natives of Mexico and may have been in the country illegally, according to Dalessandri.

Ferguson said claims would likely be pursued against the general contractor, but he stressed his firm’s investigation into the fire is ongoing. For that reason, he declined to offer further details.

Ferguson said there are no plans to name the people who own the property where the house was being built as defendants.

“In order to name people in a lawsuit there has got to be negligence,” he said.

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