Panorama Fire goes to court | AspenTimes.com
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Panorama Fire goes to court

Fire fighters stand their ground against the advancing *** fire near Upper Cattle Creek Road Wednesday afternoon July 31, 2002. Paul Conrad photo.
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Twelve property owners in Missouri Heights have banded together to file a lawsuit seeking damages from the contractors allegedly responsible for the Panorama fire last July.

All the plaintiffs in the lawsuit own homes or lots in Homestead Acres and Spring Park Meadows subdivisions, lands affected when the fire roared out of the adjacent Panorama subdivision to the south. They contend in their lawsuit that Gazley Construction and Mendoza Concrete committed several acts of negligence that resulted in the fire that eventually consumed 1,700 acres.

A crew from Mendoza Concrete started the fire while cutting rebar with a portable saw, an investigation by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office concluded. The crew was working on a foundation of a house at 0805 Buck Point Road in the Panorama Estates subdivision.

The lawsuit claimed that the Mendoza Concrete crew violated a statewide fire ban in place at the time by using equipment that threw sparks. In addition, the crew knew firsthand about the dry, dangerous conditions because it started a small fire while using the same or similar equipment at a separate construction site in Missouri Heights just one week before, the lawsuit alleged.

Once the fire started, Mendoza’s crew didn’t do enough to extinguish it and, in fact, evidence indicates they didn’t take it seriously, according to the lawsuit.

“Upon information and belief, the crew ignored the danger, and also upon information and belief, a crew member urinated on the fire in either a feeble attempt to extinguish the fire, or a not very funny attempt at humor,” said the suit.

The lawsuit – filed on behalf of the property owners by Aspen attorney Matt Ferguson of Garfield and Heicht – named Mendoza Concrete as a defendant as well as Gazely Construction, which was the contractor on the site where the fire broke out.

The lawsuit alleged Gazely Construction didn’t properly supervise Mendoza Concrete and, therefore, was negligent. Neither company is listed in the telephone book any longer so company officials couldn’t be contacted for comment.

Hans and Corin Brucker, the couple who were building the house where the fire started, weren’t named as defendants.

None of the plaintiffs had their homes burned to the ground, but they “were helpless to stop the destruction of the fire as it ravaged their properties,” the lawsuit stated.

“Existing structures on their properties that were saved from total destruction have nonetheless suffered damage in the way of broken glass, interior and exterior damage, and dust and ash filtration. The burned properties have suffered a significant diminution in value as a result of the fire damage.”

The damages listed include restoration of trees that were decades old and other vegetation, which isn’t insured; deductible losses under homeowner’s policies; “stigma damage” to the property that has made it harder for some of them to sell; loss and destruction of real and personal property; erosion damage; infiltration of dust and ash into their homes.

The July 31 fire turned the pinion, juniper and oak brush into charred sticks. Acres of land were denuded. Witnesses found it hard to believe that most of the homes in the path of the windswept flames escaped destruction.

Two homes were burned to the ground. One of those homeowners filed a separate lawsuit last month in Garfield County Court.

Ferguson said each of his clients in this lawsuit will attempt to prove in a trial the damages they suffered. Among the five specific claims for relief listed in the lawsuit, one concentrated on the construction crew’s alleged violation of the fire ban and the penalties that Colorado law makes available.

The lawsuit notes that states laws allows treble damages for a loss “if a state of emergency or disaster due to drought has been declared by the governor at the time a person knowingly sets fire to any woods or prairie.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit included Stephen and Paula Hunt; the Cathleen Krahe Trust; Anna and Alan Morris; Herb and Janet Weisbard; and Richard and Jill Kane, all of Homestead Acres subdivision.

The plaintiffs from Spring Park Meadows subdivision were Elk View Meadow LLC; Glenroy Partners; Suzanne and Michael Vernon; Charles and Sandra Israel; Harry and Jerri Mayer; Frederick and Carol Kanner; and Leon Engel Trust 200.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.]


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