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Nevada AG recommends $25M wildfire settlement

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2016, file photo, a firefighter hoses down the area on Mount Rose Highway and Edmonton Drive in Reno, Nev. Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford is recommending approval of a $25 million settlement with dozens of homeowners and insurance companies who sought more than $300 million in damages from the state after a fire destroyed 24 homes south of Reno when strong winds reignited a smoldering prescribed burn in 2016.
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2016, file photo, a firefighter hoses down the area on Mount Rose Highway and Edmonton Drive in Reno, Nev. Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford is recommending approval of a $25 million settlement with dozens of homeowners and insurance companies who sought more than $300 million in damages from the state after a fire destroyed 24 homes south of Reno when strong winds reignited a smoldering prescribed burn in 2016. Mike Higdon

Nevada's attorney general is recommending approval of a $25 million settlement with homeowners and others who sought more than $300 million in damages from the state after a prescribed burn escaped and destroyed 24 homes south of Reno.

Lawyers for 105 plaintiffs who sued the Nevada Division of Forestry told a judge last month they had reached a tentative settlement that would require approval by the three-member state Board of Examiners.

A trial to determine the amount of damages had been scheduled for December after a jury found the state guilty of gross negligence last year when strong winds reignited a smoldering prescribed burn in 2016.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, the board chairman, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske are expected to approve the $25 million settlement agreement when the panel meets Thursday in Carson City.

"Based on my investigation of the claims and my evaluation of the costs of litigation and a possible adverse outcome, the settlement is in the best interest of the state," Ford wrote in a memo included in the board's agenda packet. He noted that if the state went to court and lost, any jury award would not be subject to the Nevada Legislature's $100,000 cap on tort damages.

"Through the course of discovery and mediation, settlement demands reached a peak of over $325 million," Ford said.

The University of Nevada in Reno, which owned part of the property where the intentionally set fire escaped in the Washoe Valley between Reno and Carson City, was exonerated during last year's trial. But the jury found the state forestry division acted with gross negligence and that was a substantial factor in the resulting property damage.

No one was killed or seriously injured in the fire that burned more than 3.5 square miles (9 square kilometers) in October 2016 along the Sierra's eastern front just east of Lake Tahoe.

An independent investigation concluded in February 2017 the fire was caused by the ill-advised attempt to burn a large, wind-prone area with insufficient staff. Joe Freeland, the state forester and fire warden, later resigned.

Nevada's insurer will pay $15 million toward the settlement. The state will pay the remaining $10 million — $7 million from a contingency fund and $3 million from a tort fund, Ford said.

Individual plaintiffs will receive $18 million of the settlement, with $7 million going to insurance carriers as reimbursement for claims they already have paid to homeowners.

William Jeanney, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told reporters last month the settlement was a "good deal" for everyone involved given the circumstances. He credited Sisolak and Ford for helping reach the agreement.

"I'm pleased with what we were able to accomplish," Jeanney said. "It was not easy. The state was looking at a very difficult damage value."

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