RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota has filed the second of two
lawsuits against Black Hills Power for damages from two wildfires
allegedly sparked by the company's electrical lines.
The complaints seek damages from Black Hills Power, blaming the
company for causing a 2001 wildfire near Hot Springs and last
year's Grizzly Gulch Fire that threatened Lead and Deadwood.
The suits were filed through attorneys Kenneth E. Barker and
John W. Burke of Belle Fourche in the 7th Circuit Court. The first
suit was filed in September and latest was filed last week.
The complaints say Black Hills Power failed to properly inspect
and maintain electrical-transmission lines and easements in the
vicinity of both fires.
Both complaints ask juries to award unspecified damages in
compensation for the costs of fighting the fires.
In the complaint filed Jan. 22 in Fall River County, the state
alleges that a downed power line in a rugged area 10 miles south of
Hot Springs sparked a wildfire on Sept. 26, 2001.
"Upon failure of one of the electrical transmission lines,
(Black Hills Power) negligently re-energized the line multiple
times, without investigating the location and source of a down
power line, causing the re-energized line to come in contact with
vegetation and thus starting the fire," the complaint said.
That fire, which was called the West Hell Canyon Fire, burned
more than 10,500 acres of grass and timber on private and public
land. At its peak, more than 800 firefighters battled the blaze.
In the earlier complaint, filed Sept. 6, 2002, in Pennington
County, the state claims Black Hills Power failed "to properly
trim the natural vegetation in close proximity to transmission
lines" near Lead and Deadwood.
The Grizzly Gulch Fire burned out of control on June 29, 2002,
forcing the evacuation of Lead and Deadwood and many surrounding
areas.
That fire burned 11,589 acres and destroyed 15 buildings,
including seven homes, and forced Deadwood's casinos, restaurants
and hotels to close for three days.
Then-Gov. Bill Janklow announced on July 16 that investigators
had determined that trees brushing against power lines owned by
Black Hills Power started the Grizzly Gulch Fire.
Officials estimated the cost of the West Hell Canyon Fire to be
as high as $800,000. The total estimated cost of the Grizzly Gulch
Fire is $17 million.
Last summer, Black Hills Power said it was conducting its own
investigation into the cause of both fires and has not admitted
responsibility.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)