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Idaho sues federal government over ROTC fire

The state of Idaho is suing the federal government for nearly $1.6 million because state attorneys say members of the U.S. Navy’s Reserve Officer Training Corps negligently caused a fire at the University of Idaho.

The lawsuit was filed in Boise’s U.S. District Court the week of Dec. 10.

Deputy Idaho Attorney General Mike Gilmore says members of the Navy ROTC program at the University of Idaho caused serious damage to a World War II-era building when charcoal briquettes were left smoldering after a barbecue last year.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the lawsuit.

According to a fire marshal’s report of the blaze, the students had a barbecue after spending the morning of June 18, 2011, cleaning the building. They grilled some hot dogs, and when the event was over, dumped the ashes and briquettes into a flowerbed next to the building.

The students said they dumped water on the ashes, and that they’d done the same thing in the past with no problems.

But according to fire investigators, within a couple of hours the ashes set some dried vegetation in the flowerbed on fire, and from there the flames spread to the building, destroying it.

State officials first filed a tort claim demanding reimbursement for the damage with the Department of the Navy, but the agency denied the claim in October.

Attorneys for the state contend that the federal government, as the representative of the Navy ROTC program, was negligent for failing to ensure the building was maintained in a way as to not cause a fire, failing to supervise its agents, employees and students and failing to exercise due care under the circumstances.

The state had the building insured through Travelers Lloyds Insurance Co., with a $250,000 deductible. In the lawsuit, the state is asking for money to cover the deductible, along with $1.4 million that the insurance company estimated it will take to repair the building. The lawsuit also seeks reimbursement for money spent to renovate another building that the ROTC program had to move into in the meantime, along with attorney fees and other expenses.

If the state wins the lawsuit, the insurance company will be reimbursed for the amount it has already paid to the state.

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