Little Valley Fire victims settle with the state

CARSON CITY, NV (KOLO) October 14, 2016, the Little Valley Fire ripped through homes and ranches in Washoe Valley, destroying everything in its path.

Investigators would find the fire was caused by a controlled burn conducted by the Nevada Division of Forestry and UNR.

The fire was extinguished the day before. But embers continued to burn in a tree stump, which quickly reignited when strong winds picked up.

May 17, 2019, plaintiff’s attorney William Jeanney explained how he thought this tragedy should have been handled, but was not.

“The government should step forward, reach out, to those homeowners, those taxpayers and say, 'Hey look, I'll help you the best way I can.” It shouldn't be, “Hey look, you know I'm going to force you into a court room, where for two and a half weeks, you have to try a case, in order for you to prove what we did wrong.' And they knew what they did wrong,” Jeanney said.

In August 2018, his clients won a suit against the Nevada Division of Forestry and UNR. But jurors also found the state grossly negligent, which meant caps--typically placed on legal awards against government agencies--were lifted.

Residents and insurance companies were poised to go back to district court this summer to see how much they would receive in damages which could have run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. That's when Attorney General Aaron Ford tried to work out a settlement deal.

“This governor and this attorney general tried to solve the problem. And it was a difficult problem to solve. Because of the overlaying legal issues and the amount of damages that were involved,” said Jeanney of the settlement, which was in the works.

June 13, 2019, the state board of examiners approved a $25,000,000 settlement with the plaintiffs in the Little Valley Fire. Money will come from insurance as well as a state contingency fund.

“Comfortable with the settlement. Again you can't replace individual's everything they lost from a tragedy. I think General Ford's office and General Ford did a great job,” said Governor Steve Sisolak after the unanimous vote.

In two weeks, Washoe District Court Judge Scott Freeman will look over the details of the settlement and decide to approve it or not.

If approval happens, the case will head to Las Vegas, where a magistrate will decide how much money will go to each plaintiff, depending upon individual losses.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2019