The total cost of settlements associated with a 2013 wildfire started by the government in northwestern South Dakota has now reached $676,000, with the possibility of more settlements to come.
The three latest settlement agreements, which add up to $435,000, became part of the public court file on Tuesday, July 2.
The agreements say the government will pay $200,000 to Gayle and Linda Evridge, $145,000 to LaVonne Foss and Richard Foss, and $90,000 to Larry, Kathy, Ryan and Stephanie Archibald.
Last month, the first settlements in the lawsuit were reached with three other plaintiffs. Those earlier settlements totaled $241,000.
According to a spokeswoman for the government’s lawyers, the lawsuit remains pending for the following additional plaintiffs: Eric and Laurie Casper, Diamond Acre Trust, Grand River Cooperative Grazing Association, Robert and Connie Hermann, Ryan Hermann, Jamie Hermann, Roger Sonn, Duane and Dawn Harris, and Albert Keller.
The prescribed burn was lit April 3, 2013, by U.S. Forest Service employees in Pasture 3B on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands in the Lemmon area, near the border of South Dakota and North Dakota.
The burn was intended to cover 210 acres of federally owned land, according to a later Forest Service report. Prescribed burns are used for a variety of purposes, including the control of grass and weed species and the elimination of dry or dead vegetation that could fuel wildfires.
Wind blew the prescribed burn beyond its intended area, and it became a wildfire that burned for several days. It destroyed pasture grass that ranchers depended on for their cattle, along with other items including crops and fences.
Although reports of the wildfire’s acreage varied, court documents say it burned 3,519 acres of federally owned land and 7,160 acres of privately owned land before it was brought under control, for a total of 10,679 acres, which is equivalent to nearly 17 square miles.
In 2015, affected landowners filed multiple lawsuits that were eventually consolidated into one case.
The lawsuits alleged that the Forest Service made mistakes in its preparation and execution of the prescribed burn, including a failure to heed vital weather information. The government has not admitted any liability or fault in the six settlement agreements that have been filed so far.