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Nevada board approves $25M settlement in Reno fire lawsuit

CARSON CITY — The state Board of Examiners on Thursday approved $25 million for a settlement with homeowners and others following a 2016 prescribed burn south of Reno that got out of control and destroyed 24 homes.

The three-member board made up of Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske unanimously approved funding for the settlement. The state will pay $10 million — $7 million from contingency funds and $3 million from a tort fund. The state’s insurer will pay the remaining $15 million.

Lawyers representing more than 100 plaintiffs sued the state, and a jury last year found the state guilty of gross negligence. A trial to determine damages for the case was scheduled for December.

Sisolak lauded Ford and the attorney general’s office for getting the plaintiffs to agree to the settlement, which was a fraction of the what the state could have faced if the case had continued.

“It could have been an enormous liability, which could have put this state in a very difficult position,” Sisolak said after Thursday’s meeting.

Ford, who recommended the settlement that the board approved, indicated in a memo included in the board’s agenda packet that settlement demands in the case had reached $325 million at one point.

“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.

No one died or suffered serious injuries from the fire, which burned 3.5 square miles along the eastern Sierra front east of Lake Tahoe.

Plutonium lawyers

The board also approved a $450,000 contract with Las Vegas law firm Pisanelli Bice to assist the attorney general’s office in lawsuits involving the U.S. Department of Energy.

The firm will aid Ford’s office in the litigation over the half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium that was secretly shipped last fall into the Nevada National Security Site, located roughly 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The state sued the Energy Department to remove the plutonium and halt any future shipments.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in the case in August.

The firm will also help the state in any cases in front of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and on any issues related to Yucca Mountain. The contract runs until June 30, 2020.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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