This Note provides an overview of the statutory and common law relating to forest fires, with a particular focus on fires started by power lines in National Forests. Fire is a constant threat to America’s forests and is capable of doing enormous damage to critical ecological systems. Yet the legal ramifications of forest fires are often determined by state law, which leads to doctrinal inconsistency. Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has joined California courts in allowing the federal government to bring broad damages claims against utility companies responsible for forest fires. Other states, by contrast, limit the types of damages that the government can claim. The standard of liability for forest fires can be similarly ambiguous. The best way forward, from an environmental perspective, is to condition recovery on a showing of negligence, while granting restoration costs in cases where culpability is clear.
Calming the Fire: How a Negligence Standard and Broad Cost-Recovery
Can Help Restore National Forests After Wildfires,
B.C. Envtl. Aff. L. Rev.