RENO — A jury has found the Nevada Division of Forestry liable for the loss of 23 homes and 17 other buildings in a 2016 wildfire after strong winds re-ignited a prescribed burn.
The verdict Friday set the stage for future court proceedings to determine what damages are owed property owners who sued the state, but it was not immediately known whether the state will appeal.
“Vindicated, vindicated,” plaintiff Debbie Sheltra said after the verdict. “It doesn’t replace what we’ve lost, but we feel a great sense of satisfaction because we were right and we didn’t give up.”
Jurors heard two weeks of testimony by fire officials, investigators, meteorologists and homeowners about the circumstances of the fire in the Washoe Valley near Reno that followed a prescribed burn on land owned by the University of Nevada, Reno.
The 53 plaintiffs and their attorneys said the forestry division was negligent before winds a week later the burn re-ignited the fire.
“For two years, these people have lived without their homes, without their belongings, some of them lost 50-60 years of memories and the only thing they’ve ever asked for two years is that you accept responsibility for what you did,” William Jeanney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in court.
The defense argued that the fire was an unfortunate accident and that firefighters did everything correctly during the burn.
The state’s lead defense lawyer in the case, Steven Shevorski, on Saturday referred comment to an Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman, Monica Moazez, who did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The burn was aimed at clearing out overgrown vegetation to prevent future wildland fires, while giving the university a chance to study fire’s impact on the ecosystem.