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AG: LDS Church Not Targeted in Boy Scouts Fire Lawsuit

AG: LDS Church Not Targeted in Boy Scouts Fire Lawsuit



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a target of a federal and state lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America that seeks to recover $14 million in costs of the 2002 East Fork Fire, the Utah Attorney General's office said Thursday.

The Scout troop whose members authorities say started the fire is sponsored by the LDS church, but the lawsuit target is the Great Salt Lake Council of the national scouting organization and will remain so, said Assistant Attorney General Mike Johnson.

The Great Salt Lake Council, which has told the attorney general's office it has more than enough insurance to cover the costs, is not church-sponsored, Johnson added.

The Justice Department and the Utah Attorney General on Tuesday jointly sued the Scouts over the fire, which began at a Boy Scout camp in the Uinta Mountains on June 28,2002.

The U.S. Attorney for Utah Paul Warner said the federal government was seeking $13.3 million for the costs of fighting the fire and reclamation of the charred land. The state attorney general's office is asking for more than $606,000 to cover the state's firefighting expenses.

Warner said the complaints were filed after negotiations with the Scouts during the past two years failed to get anywhere.

On Thursday, Johnson said his office hoped the lawsuit got the Boy Scouts of America's attention, especially given past statements that the Scouts had adequate insurance to repay the costs. "Our primary hope is we can get to the bargaining table with them," he said. "Either we work it out or we have to proceed" with the lawsuit.

Utah law requires the people who start fires to pay for the cost of fighting them.

The Boy Scouts have not admitted responsibility for the fire. Rob Wallace, a BSA attorney, said Tuesday questions remain about how the fire started.

Authorities say Scouts started the fire started inside or near the East Fork of the Bear River Boy Scout Camp, about 35 miles south of Evanston, Wyo. The fire blackened 14,200 acres of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest and caused an estimated $150,000 in damage within the Scout camp to 12 camping sites, a rifle range, climbing towers, some latrines and several thousand feet of water lines.

According to the court documents, Scout employees at the East Fork of the Bear Scout Reservation summer camp had been informed of fire restrictions that had been in place for at least a week.

The lawsuits claim the Scouts, who were there to earn wilderness survival merit badges, didn't comply with its own rules on adult supervision of overnight campouts.

Five Scouts from Boy Scout Troop 149, sponsored by the Peoa Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, started the fire, the complaints state.

The Great Salt Lake Council employed an adult and two juveniles implicated in the fire, which is why the council is the target, but that doesn't mean they are the only ones culpable, Johnson said.

"There are a host of other potential parties we can bring in," he said.

Earl Armstrong of the Great Salt Lake Council referred a request for comment to Greg Shields, national spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America. A telephone message left for Shields Thursday wasn't immediately returned.

The Mormon church has been active in the Scouts for more than 90 years and is one of the largest sponsors of Boy Scouting nationwide. Scout leaders in Mormon congregations are appointed by their bishops.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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