Homeowner Says Crews Started ‘Unnecessary’ Backburn Without Permission, Over $75,000 Lost
The 2017 Sunrise Fire in Mineral County was awful, even making it to the top of the national priority list. Resident Jay Alexander was evacuated during the incident and returned home to find his land ablaze, not by the Sunrise Fire, but by a backburn set to help fight the fire.
"We came around the corner on the road, right on the northern edge of our property, and as far as we could see, which is pretty close to a mile, our entire property was on fire, completely on fire," Alexander said. "I was devastated, I pulled to the side of the road and said 'My God, what is going on here?' and my wife started crying."
Alexander says he never gave permission for his land to be burned and that log decks that had been cut and piled were set ablaze intentionally. He estimates the backburn cost him tens of thousands of dollars.
"Based on the fact that the logger estimated that there were at least 30 truckloads of logs that would have been pulled out of there, it becomes, easily $75,000 to $80,000 and that's before we talk about the fact that the market has gone in the toilet now because the Forest Service is flooding the market with logs from their salvage logging from the fire," Alexander said.
MSU Extension Forestry Professor Peter Kolb says Alexander had invested personal resources in managing his section of the forest. After examining the damage on the ground Kolb says the backburn was unnecessary.
"There was someone in charge of his sector there that took it upon himself to do something, and I don't know whether it was sanctioned by the Incident Command team or not, to burn his property as a backburn without Jay's permission," Kolb said. "When you look at everything he had done... he had done everything to reduce the fire risk on his property and make it more resilient, there was no need to burn his property."
Kolb says he has seen a number of incidents in recent years, where forest fire backburning encroaches unnecessarily on private property owners. Mr. Alexander is considering pursuing the issue in court.