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Who is to Pay for Human-Caused Fires?

Who is to Pay for Human-Caused Fires?

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Scott Haws ReportingUnfortunately you can't bill Mother Nature for disasters, but when humans are to blame it's a different story.

Over the past few weeks several wildfires have destroyed hundreds of acres along the Wasatch Front -- fires that are being blamed on humans.

A fire near Centerville is being blamed on three teens playing with smoke bombs and, like in many other cases, someone is going to have to pay. That someone is usually the taxpayer because rarely are investigators able to trace wildfires back to the person responsible. But when they do, as appears to be the case here, or possibly in Provo from the 100 acre fire last week, you might be surprised to learn who ends up paying.

George Haddad, Homeowner: “You see that burnt area there, you see that little bit by that little road right there, it started right down below on the fire breaker.”

Nearly 100 acres later, George Haddad was finally able to sleep again knowing his home and most of his property had been spared by this once raging wildfire earlier this month. Like many of the major wildfires we see year in and year out, this one couldn't be blamed on Mother Nature.

Dave Dalrymple, Division of Forestry: “Typically we have on an average year, if there is such a thing anymore, about 50 percent are human-caused, 50 percent are lightning-caused.”

And when investigators do determine human hands caused a fire and discover exactly who is responsible, government agencies don't have much of a choice.

Dave Dalrymple, Division of Forestry: “Whoever is responsible for causing a fire, by law, is responsible for paying for the costs.”

So what happens when an untouched piece of land ends burned and you or someone in your family is responsible? Believe it or not, your home owners insurance policy may come in to play. On several occasions in recent years, insurance companies have ended up picking up much of the tab for fighting fires.

Most home owners insurance policies include liability coverage in the event you damage property owned by someone else. Three hundred-thousand dollars is a pretty standard amount. It may sound like a lot, but when it comes to battling these blazes, it's a drop in the bucket.

Dave Dalrymple, Forestry: “When someone can run up a bill of anywhere of a couple of hundreds of thousands of dollars to several millions of dollars, it's not very fair of the people to expect the public and you and I as the taxpayers to foot the bill for that."

George Haddad, Homeowner: “I can’t see why I should pay for somebody who put the fire here, as a taxpayer, you, me, everybody else.”

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