Wildfire Starter Files Lawsuit Notices Against 14 Fire Agencies

Joel Ledermann Convicted Of Burning Yard Debris That Started 750-Acre Fire Near Loveland

The homeowner convicted of burning of yard debris that ignited a 750-acre wildfire near Loveland has filed notice of intent to sue fire agencies that fought the Reservoir Road Fire.

The wildfire started as Joel Ledermann burned yard debris on a windy day and raced across the foothills west of Loveland. It burned two homes, several outbuildings and vehicles. The cost of fighting the fire was nearly $3 million.

Ledermann pleaded guilty to misdemeanor arson in December and avoided jail time. He was sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation and 450 hours of community service.

During sentencing, Ledermann Reading apologized to those he'd hurt.

"To my neighbors, to people in Loveland and Northern Colorado … to my innocent wife and children, I'm sorry," he said.

Now, Ledermann has filed intent to sue notices against 13 fire agencies, the Colorado State Forest Service and the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins, according to documents obtained by TheDenverChannel.com. A few of the agencies threatened with lawsuits are small volunteer departments, staffed by residents in neighboring communities.

Some of those residents told 7NEWS they're surprised by Ledermann's move.

"He should be glad those agencies were involved," said Phillip Hunger, one of the homeowners who was forced to evacuate during the blaze. "If they hadn't been here, the fire could have been a lot worse and the liability against him would be much higher than it is now."

Ledermann's attorney, Bradley Ross-Shannon, said he will examine the fire agencies' "response time and the initial strategy in fighting the fire."

In response to 7NEWS' questions, Ross-Shannon confirmed that if he can make the case that firefighters mishandled the wildfire battle, allowing it to spread and damage property, it could diminish Ledermann's legal liability.

Any legal challenge is likely to focus on the Loveland Fire Department, which was the lead agency in the wildfire fight.

"I have to tell you, I was a little surprised when I heard about it," Loveland Fire Chief Randy Mirowski told TheDenverChannel.com Wednesday. "But I guess I shouldn't be in the times in which we live."

Mirowski defended the firefighting his department and surrounding agencies performed during a grueling four-day battle against a wildfire fanned by high winds in rugged, hilly terrain.

"I believe wholeheartedly that our firefighting forces and our incident commanders all operated within standard good practices and even went above and beyond to extend themselves to try to extinguish this fire," the chief said. "I'm certain that everybody in this group that is involved is disappointed at this."

Ross-Shannon said he filed the claims against the fire agencies as a legal precaution, because his client is already being sued for negligence by a couple who lost their home in the fire. And more lawsuits are expected.

In the criminal case, a judge has so far ordered Ledermann to pay restitution totaling $352,000 among 39 neighbors or their insurance companies who've already paid fire claims, court records said. Yet, restitution amounts for another 80 residents have not been determined.

"Joel is being sued by one person now and there are many more that are going to come after him," Ross-Shannon said. "There's a lot of insurance companies that paid money to people. So, we expect that there will be additional suits."

Ross-Shannon said he faced a legal deadline to file the notice of intent to sue, or lose the right to question fire agencies' handling of the fire fighting. Filing an intent to sue notice against a government agency is required before a lawsuit can be filed.

"We really don’t expect it to go anywhere," Ross-Shannon said. "But we want to make sure that we preserve the right to look into and analyze the (fire agencies') response to make sure it was appropriate."

Prosecutors have been awaiting resolution of the neighbors' civil lawsuit against Ledermann before pursuing criminal restitution from the man, said Linda Jensen, spokeswoman for the Larimer County District Attorney's Office.

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