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Dog Head Fire victims file claim for damages

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A year after the Dog Head Fire burned their homes and blackened their land, 23 East Mountains property owners have filed a claim against federal agencies for losses they sustained.

The 18,000-acre, June 2016 fire destroyed 12 homes and forced dozens to evacuate. An October 2016 report on the wildfire found that the blaze started when a masticator, used to shred trees and brush as a way of reducing fire fuel, struck a rock and threw sparks. The three-man team running the machine was unable to stop the fire, which grew out of control and ultimately cost $10 million to suppress.

Attorney Mark Dow, who is representing the claimants, said the agencies involved, including the U.S. Forest Service, have six months to investigate the claims and respond. If they don’t respond within that period of time, Dow said, the claimants can file a federal lawsuit.

In a news release, Dow said the crew running the masticator was contracted to perform fuel reduction work by the Isleta Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, which included the Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and other agencies. He said crews working under that project had been thinning the forest for years, leaving behind piles of downed trees and brush that “would quickly dry and pose a major fire hazard if ignited in any manner.”

Dow said the crew working that day was in a “fire prone area” in the middle of New Mexico’s fire season. He said it was unreasonable to take on such an operation when hot, dry and windy temperatures create ideal conditions for destructive fires.

The group he represents lost homes, belongings, cabins, ranches, livestock and property and are still dealing with ongoing flooding and erosion, Dow said.

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