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Boy Scouts to pay $330,000 over huge wildfire

/ Source: The Associated Press

A local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America has agreed to pay $330,000 and plant 9,000 tree seedlings to settle a state lawsuit over a wildfire that burned 14,200 acres, officials said.

“With the cash component and these other elements we think that’s a substantial recovery for the taxpayers,” Utah Assistant Attorney General Mike Johnson said Tuesday.

The state alleged in its lawsuit that the wildfire started at a campsite where 17 Scouts, ages 12 to 14, were working on a wilderness-survival badge in the Uinta Mountains in eastern Utah. There were two 15-year-old counselors but no adults present at the campsite.

The Scouts said they believed any fire had been extinguished. At that time, in June 2002, there was a state ban on fires because of dry conditions.

Utah law requires people who start fires to pay for fighting them and reclaiming the land. When the lawsuit was filed, the state was seeking $606,000 to cover its costs.

Education programs to be added
Besides the money and seedlings, the Scouts agreed to add education programs to teach boys about wildfires, according to the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

Although the cash portion of the settlement falls short of what Utah spent, Johnson said the education programs will prevent future fires and save money.

Utah’s forestry agency will be involved in developing programs for the Scouts, he said.

Chapter spokesman Kay Godfrey did not return a message seeking comment. In a written statement, he said Scouts “are looking forward to partnering with the state on these important matters.”

Separately, the Scouts are being sued by the federal government, which spent more than $12 million to fight the fire. A trial that was scheduled to begin Monday was postponed with no new date set.

In depositions in that case, Scouts said they extinguished a fire with water, urine and dirt and slept next to the site.

But in ordering a trial, a federal judge recently said there was no evidence that Scouts or the teen counselors conducted a “cold-out test.” In that test, someone can safely run a hand through the coals and ashes.