SALT LAKE CITY — The federal government wants $1.6 million from a Utah County construction company to cover suppression costs for a wildfire that it says a track hoe operator sparked in Alpine four years ago.
The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Patterson Construction Inc., and several subcontractors and individuals on Tuesday.
Patterson Construction hired a subcontractor to do a geotechnical study before building more homes in the foothills near Alpine, including using a track hoe to do excavation work. The track hoe stalled at one point and workers sprayed an ignition accelerant to get it started, causing the engine to burn hotter than normal, according to the lawsuit.
A fire ignited either under the heavy machinery or next to it that spread quickly to the mountains east of town, eventually burning 2,222 acres over seven days in July 2012, the lawsuit says. Known as the Quail Fire, the blaze forced hundreds of residents from their homes.
The National Weather Service had issued a "Red Flag" warning of the risk of wildfires for July 3, 2012, on the Wasatch Range, including the area where the fire started that day, according to the lawsuit.
The contractors failed to take reasonable industry precautions on the hot, windy day in an area covered with dry vegetation, the lawsuit says. The vegetation hadn't been watered down nor was there a water truck nearby.
The fire came close to burning the home of Patterson Construction co-owner James Patterson in the Box Elder Cove subdivision. Flames blackened trees, shrubs and grass surrounding the four-acre property. The heat also destroyed part of a wood fence and melted the siding on a playhouse in the backyard.
The Patterson family returned home to find a postcard in the mailbox reading, "We are proud to have saved your home. Lehi 82 B Shift," followed by the date, "July 3, 5:19 p.m."