Wyoming Firefighter Sues Utility Over Wife’s Death in Wildland Fire

A Wyoming firefighter who’s wife was killed in a wildland fire has filed suit against the utility and tree service that he contends are responsible for sparking the blaze. William Jerome “Jerry” Ruth filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming earlier this month.

Ruth is a firefighter with the Clark Fire District. His wife, Cindy, was killed on November 15, 2021 during the Clark Fire. According to the complaint, the Clark Fire was caused by the negligence of Beartooth Electric Cooperative, Inc. and Asplundh Tree Expert, LLC in failing to properly clear branches from powerlines where the fire started.

Firefighters from Clark, Cody, Powell, Belfry, BLM and Shoshone National Forest responded to the 300 acre fire. According to the Cody Enterprise, besides killing Cindy Ruth the Clark Fire destroyed three homes, seven outbuildings and a bridge.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • On May 26, 2021, Defendant Asplundh contracted with Beartooth to conduct vegetation management services on its power transmission and distribution lines in and near Clark, including Beartooth’s powerline at 197 Louis Lamour Lane, Clark.
  • On November 15, 2021, a tree growing within or near Beartooth’s right-of-way contacted Beartooth’s powerline and ignited a wildfire at 197 Louis Lamour Lane. The wildfire became known as the “Clark Fire.”
  • The Clark Fire spread to adjoining properties, including the residential property owned by Jerry and Cindy, at 1 Louis Lamour Lane.
  • As the Clark Fire approached the Ruths’ home, Cindy, in her effort to flee its advancing flames, was trapped. She was overcome by the fire and died from her injuries.
  • Under standards of the industry, Wyoming law, and the Contract, the tree should have been trimmed to a distance that would have prevented its contact with Beartooth’s powerline. Beartooth and Asplundh each failed to comply with these standards.

The complaint contains four counts: wrongful death/negligence; negligent infliction of emotional distress due to Jerry having identify his wife’s remains; nuisance; and negligent hiring and supervision.

Here is a copy of the complaint.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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