Feds suing Copper Center fishing charter for $1 million over 2019 wildfire

The Klutina River Fire on July 11, 2019. (Brandon Kobayashi/Alaska Smokejumpers)

In an effort to recoup the costs of fighting a 2019 wildfire, the federal government is suing a Copper Center-based fishing charter company and one of its guides for allegedly starting the blaze.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday, says Grove’s Salmon Charters and guide Joshua McDonald are responsible for negligently starting the Klutina River Fire in July 2019 and are liable for the cost of approximately $1 million to fight it.

According to the lawsuit, McDonald was guiding a group of four customers fishing near Mile 17 of the Klutina River when he started a fire by the river to warm the customers and ward off insects.

The lawsuit says they were on land managed by Alaska Native corporation Ahtna Inc. and had an Ahtna permit, but McDonald started the fire despite dry, wildfire-prone conditions, stern warnings from the ‘State not to burn in the area and a suspension Ahtna burn.

The lawsuit says McDonald’s didn’t completely extinguish the fire before he and the customers left, and later that night someone called to report a one-acre blaze, which eventually burned more than 175 acres, most of which was Ahtna land.

The Alaska Division of Forestry and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management fought the fire, and a subsequent U.S. Forest Service investigation identified the fire started by McDonald’s as the cause of the largest fire in forest, according to the lawsuit.

Reached by telephone on Wednesday, one of the owners of Groves Salmon Charters declined to comment.

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Robert A. Glidden