Jury finds NDF found 'grossly negligent,' liable for 2016 Little Valley Fire
The jury in the Little Valley Fire civil trial has found the Nevada Division of Forestry 'grossly negligent' and liable for the Little Valley Fire that destroyed multiple homes in 2016.
The verdict comes after nearly two weeks of testimony from fire officials and investigators, meteorologists, and homeowners.
The jury concluded that the fire was caused by a prescribed burn that was overseen by the Nevada Division of Forestry in October 2016.
Fire investigators testified high winds blew smoldering embers across the perimeter of the prescribed burn site in the early hours of October 14th. Fire crews said that within 90 minutes of ignition, several homes were burned to the ground. After several days of burning, the Little Valley Fire destroyed 23 homes and consumed more than 2,300 acres in Washoe Valley, just south of Reno.
The homeowners' attorneys argued that NDF "failed to exercise a slight degree of care" when implementing the prescribed burn plan. The plaintiffs argued NDF officials did not have a thorough contingency plan, as back-up crews were stationed 90 minutes away, and they said NDF burn boss Gene Phillips did not have a plan for the adjacent areas of the burn site, including the area leading to Franktown Road where the homes burned down.
The attorneys of the plaintiffs argued that whether the forecasted winds were 30 or 115 miles per hour, Phillips needed to revisit and readjust his burn plan accordingly knowing high winds were in the forecast and crews were continuing to control the burn site. Instead of bringing in more crews and resources, they argued Phillips sent crews home.
The plaintiffs argued that NDF fire supervisor Paul Carmichael deliberately and intentionally violated the burn plan by documenting humidity levels during the prescribed burn that were too low for crews to continue burning.
The defense said that NDF fire crews worked extremely hard throughout the prescribed burn and their work never lead to gross negligence. The defense attorneys argued that the burn site consisted of 220 acres and the fire only broke out on a 5 acre plot of land.
Defense attorneys argued on October 13th, the day before the fire began, the majority of the units were out cold after being treated with foam and water from fire engines. The defense said the fire broke out underneath a tree stump outside the perimeter of the burn site and the plaintiffs couldn't prove the needles, fine twigs, and organic material on the surface reignited on the inside of the burn site and caused the fire.
The University of Nevada, Reno was not found liable for causing the fire. The university owned the land where NDF conducted the prescribed burn. UNR officials testified that the university planned to create a documentary on how the controlled burn was conducted.
As the Little Valley Fire trial was a civil case, only 6 of the 8 jurors needed to agree for the plaintiffs to win. In a criminal case, the 10 jurors must unanimously agree.
News 4-Fox 11 was present for testimony during the entire trial. Find our complete coverage, from day one, right here:
- Little Valley Fire trial begins after lawsuit filed by homeowners against NDF
- Little Valley Fire trial: Nevada Division of Forestry gives perspective on what happened
- Little Valley Fire: Attorneys question UNR professor responsible for observing the burn
- Little Valley Fire trial: Cause of fire was 'escape' from prescribed burn
- Little Valley Fire Trial: Firefighter says more fire crews should have been sent to fire
- Burn boss left crews to handle prescribed burn the day before the Little Valley fire began
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.