Judge holds first hearing for Little Valley Fire lawsuits against state of Nevada

Judge Freeman, 2nd Judicial District Court

Nearly 10 months after the Little Valley Fire, a judge held the first hearing for lawsuits against the state of Nevada on Tuesday.

Judge Scott Freeman ruled to consolidate all of the lawsuits against the state into one case, but outside of that, he didn't make any other big decisions.

"This is a small town and this is a large case." That's one of the first things Judge Freeman said during Tuesday's hearing, recognizing how high profile the lawsuits are.

More than a dozen lawyers and even more people affected by the Little Valley Fire filled the courtroom.

The wildfire destroyed 23 homes and 17 outbuildings, but attorneys representing the Nevada Division of Forestry (NDF) said that was the exact opposite of what forest officials intended when they planned a prescribed burn in Little Valley. They said NDF officials intended to keep the prescribed fire on government property.

Lawyers representing the Little Valley Fire victims argue the NDF chose to disregard basic issues, like the potential for the prescribed burn to escape containment lines and the high winds the night the wildfire sparked. Their attorneys also referenced an independent investigation that found the Nevada Division of Forestry's prescribed burn was responsible for starting the wildfire.

Attorneys for the University of Nevada said students from the college were conducting research during the prescribed burn. They argued the state is not liable for escaped prescribed fires.

Lawyers from both sides cited case law from California, but the judge said there aren't any previous cases in Nevada to give him guidance, so he needs to see more evidence to make a decision about whether to dismiss the lawsuits against the state.

Judge Freeman will now review the arguments presented at the hearing Tuesday and make a ruling in the next month or so. In the meantime, all of the lawyers involved in the case will meet and make a plan and gather more evidence to present to the judge.

Stay with News 4 for developments in this case as they become available.

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