Construction Companies Pay Nearly $1.4 Million for Damage Caused by a Fire on the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Mark A. Yancey, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, announces that BELL CONTRACTING, INC. AND REDLANDS CONTRACTING, LLC paid $1,398,967.84 to settle civil claims stemming from allegations that the companies negligently caused a fire that damaged the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Comanche County, Oklahoma ("Refuge").
Bell Contracting, Inc. ("Bell") is a Missouri corporation that was founded in 2003. In July 2011, Bell entered into a contract with the Department of Transportation for a road improvement project on the Refuge. The project involved widening 2.58 miles of Ferguson Road, including widening the berm and extending the box culverts. Bell subcontracted with Redlands Contracting, LLC ("Redlands"), an Oklahoma limited liability company, to work on the project.
On September 1, 2011, employees of Redlands were working on the project and were cutting rebar with a chop saw. The fire danger was extremely high and there was a burn ban in effect which included Comanche County where the Refuge is located. The burn ban prohibited certain activities without necessary precautions being taken. Sparks from the chop saw ignited a fire which quickly spread and burned approximately 28,000 acres on the Refuge. The United States suffered resource damages and incurred fire suppression costs.
The United States alleged Redlands’ employees were negligent in failing to take precautions in cutting the rebar to prevent a fire from igniting and did not have means available to extinguish the fire once it was started. The United States also alleged that Bell’s employees were negligent in failing to supervise and monitor the work done by Redlands, and failed to institute measures to prevent or extinguish a fire.
In order to resolve the allegations brought by the United States, Bell and Redlands paid the United States $1,398,967.84.
In reaching this settlement, Bell and Redlands did not admit liability and the government did not make any concessions regarding the legitimacy of the claims. The agreement allows the parties to avoid the delay, expense, inconvenience, and uncertainty involved in litigating the case.
This case was investigated by the Department of Interior. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ronald R. Gallegos.