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FERGUS COUNTY, MONT.
MAY 5, 1938.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House and ordered to
Mr. McGEHEE, from the Committee on Claims, submitted the
[To accompany H. R. 8672)
The Committee on Claims, to whom was referred the bill (H. R. 8672) for the relief of Fergus County, Mont., having considered the same, report thereon with the recommendation that it do pass with the following amendment:
Strike out all of the bill after the enacting clause and insert in lieu thereof the following: That the Secretary of the Treasury is hereby authorized and directed to pay, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, to the Board of County Commissioners of Fergus County, Montana, the sum of $1,166.88, in full settlement of all claims against the United States for the cost of labor and supplies furnished during September 1937 in extinguishing a forest fire on land owned by the United States, under jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, in the Judith Mountains, Fergus County, Montana: Provided, That no part of the amount appropriated in this Act in excess of 10 per centum thereof shall be paid or delivered to or received by any agent or attorney on account of services rendered in connection with this claim, and the same shall be unlawful, any contract to the contrary notwithstanding. Any person violating the provisions of this Act shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be fined in any sum not exceeding $1,000.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
As amended, this bill provides $1,166.88 for payment to the Board of County Commissioners of Fergus County, Mont., in full settlement of all claims against the United States for the cost of labor and supplies furnished during September 1937 in extinguishing a fire on land owned by the United States, under jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, in the Judith Mountains, Mont.
The fire broke out on August 30, 1937, on public lands in the Judith Mountains, Fergus County, Mont., and it was started by lightning. The Board of County Commissioners of Fergus County, after the fire had been reported to them by the district ranger of the Forest Service, authorized the county jailer to take a crew of men to the scene to combat the fire. The fire was thought to have been extinguished, but it broke out again on September 2, in greater proportions. More than 80 men were utilized by the county in fighting the fire for several days, and a lesser number for a period up to 3 weeks thereafter. Some 260 to 300 acres of land were burned over, according to the best estimates, most of which is federally owned property.
An itemization has been submitted by the county commissioners disclosing that it expended $1,647.04 in fighting this fire for payment of labor and for various necessary supplies. The county believes it should be reimbursed for protecting other Government property and combating the fire and in that respect the Interior Department has reported that approximately 187 acres were public lands, that the cost per acre for extinguishing the fire should be about $6.24, and that it approves the bill if the amount is reduced to payment of $1,166.88, representing 187 acres at $6.24 per acre.
We agree with the Department that, in the absence of any appropriation of funds for the control of fires on the public lands, “persons or agencies undertaking to protect such lands should be reimbursed for their services” and the bill, as amended, is accordingly recommended for passage.
Appended are letters from the Interior and Agriculture Departments, and pertinent statements.
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
Washington, March 7, 1938. Hon. AMBROSE J. KENNEDY, Chairman, Committee on Claims,
House of Representatives. My Dear MR. KENNEDY: Further reference is made to your letter of January 28, requesting a report on H. R. 8672, which is a bill for the relief of Fergus County, Mont.
This bill provides for the paying to Fergus County of the sum of $1,664.86, which sum purportedly represents the amount expended by Fergus County in extinguishing a fire in said county on lands owned by the United States on or about September 1, 1937.
A field report in the matter was requested and has now been received. According to the report, the fire was started by lightning on the public lands and was reported to the county commissioners by a district ranger of the Forest Service, and they dispatched two men to put it out. The fire was thought to have been extinguished that day, but evidently no one was left to watch it, as the fire broke out again and was noticed a second time on September 2, when it was again reported to the county commissioners. They were advised by the Forest Service ranger that the fire was spreading and might do serious damage if it were not extinguished immediately. The county commissioners seemed in doubt as to whether or not they would be able to undertake putting out the fire because of the county's financial condition. At 1:30 p. m., the county commissioners contacted the district ranger of the Forest Service and asked whether he would assume control of putting out the fire. He advised, after contacting his headquarters office, that he would, and asked that at least 75 or more men be rushed to the fire. About 8:30 p. m., the fire was under control and only a few men were left for several days for general mop-up purposes.
The best estimate obtainable is that the fire covered an area of approximately 264 acres, of which an estimated 187 acres are public lands. As stated above, the report shows that this fire was started by lightning and was not occasioned by the negligence of any human agency.
An itemized bill has been received from the Board of County Commissioners of Fergus County, Mont., which shows the cost for putting out the fire as being $1,647.04, instead of $1,664.86 as given in the bill. Since the fire was started by lightning and covered private lands as well as public lands, it is felt that the Federal Government should bear only a portion of the costs. The cost per acre for putting out the fire would be approximately $6.24 and, since only 187 acres were public lands, it is felt that in no event should the Government be asked to reimburse Fergus County more than approximately $1,166.88. In connection with the cost of putting out the fire, it is the view of the Department that the charges are excessive, but since Fergus County has already undertaken the entire bill, objections to such charges are waived and the bill is approved, provided it is amended to show the amount as being $1,166.88, instead of $1,664.86.
It is the view of the Department that, since no funds are provided for the control of fires on the public lands under its jurisdiction, persons or agencies undertaking to protect such lands should be reimbursed for their services. At the same time, as in this case, it is felt that, where the fire covers both public and private lands, the Government should not be called upon for reimbursement of the entire damages. Sincerely yours,
HAROLD L. Ickes,
Secretary of the Interior.
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE,
Washington, January 25, 1938. Hon. AMBROSE J. KENNEDY,
Chairman, Committee on Claims, House of Representatives. DEAR MR. KENNEDY: Further reference is made to your request of December 17 for a report on H. R. 8672, which was acknowledged on January 6.
It now appears that the Fergus County claim is for fighting fire mainly on Government land within Montana No. 2 Grazing District, under the Taylor Grazing Act (Ch. 8 A, title 43, U. S. C.), the area burned being in sections 18, 19, and 20, T. 16 N., R. 19 E. Inasmuch as the jurisdiction of Taylor Act, grazing districts lies in the Department of the Interior and not in Agriculture, it is suggested that the report upon this bill should be requested from that Department.
We are glad, however, to give you the following information since an employee of the Forest Service was called upon by the county to take charge of the firefighting crew handling the fire in its final stages:
This fire is reported by the Forest Service as starting on August 30, 1937, caused by lightning and burning over about 300 acres, approximately 220 of which is Government land and 80 acres private land. Initial action was taken on August 31 by the county authorities and two men dispatched by them corralled the fire and left it as safe about noon September 1. About 10:30 on the morning of September 2, however, the fire again became active and at 1:30 p. m. Forest Ranger McLain was requested by the county authorities to take charge of the fire. It was controlled at 8:30 p. m. of the same day.
The above information is included in the hope that it may be of some value to the committee in connection with the disposition of this bill. Sincerely,
Harry L. BROWN,
Acting Secretary. STATE OF MONTANA,
County of Fergus, 88: Pat McENERNEY, being first duly sworn deposes and says: That he is and was at all times herein mentioned, the jailer of Fergus County, Mont.;
That on or about the 30th day of August 1937 he was appointed by the Board of County Commissioners of Fergus County, Mont., to take charge of the crew of men for the purpose of extinguishing a certain forest fire located in the Judith Mountains in said Fergus County, Mont.; that to the best of the knowledge and information of this affiant the said fire started in the forenoon of said August 30, 1937, and that to the best knowledge and information of this affiant the said fire was caused by lightning; that this affiant after being appointed by the board of county commissioners to take charge of the said crew of men for the purpose of extinguishing said fire made a trip to the territory where said fire was burning in said Judith Mountains; that on or about the 2d day of September 1937 this
affiant moved said crew of men into the territory where said fire was then burning and had said crew of men under his personal charge at all times until the said crew of men was finally discharged when the fire had been extinguished; the location of the said fire and the portion of territory burned over by said fire was mostly on Government land and unoccupied by settlers; that said fire burned over an area of approximately 3 miles in length by approximately 134 miles in width; said fire, to the best knowledge and information of this affiant was started in section 12, township 16 north, range 19 east, Montana meridian, in said Fergus County, Mont.;
That the lands burned over by said fire consisted of rolling grasslands and timberlands, the total vegetation of which lands was destroyed by said fire together with the timber growing thereon; that when said fire was at its worst this affiant had under his control and employed by him in fighting said fire, approximately 80 men and that the said men were employed by Fergus County, Mont., to fight and extinguish the said fire and were at all times acting under the direct control of this affiant; that said men were not retained or employed for any period of time other than required in the proper and necessary use of the same in extinguishing the said fire; that this affiant with said crew of men were engaged in extinguishing and fighting said fire over a period of approximately 1 week although the greater portion of said employees were released from their services as soon as it was apparent that said fire was under control and the last men employed by the affiant were discharged and released from the said service approximately 3 weeks after the commencement of the fighting of the said fire. It was necessary to keep said men employed to keep down the small fires that would break out during that period of time;
That this affiant further says that to his best knowledge and information, that besides paying for the labor of the men employed in fighting said fire, said Fergus County, Mont., also paid for their supplies, groceries, and necessities used by said men in fighting and extinguishing the said fire; that said Fergus County also paid for transportation of said men to and from said fire; that the wages paid for fighting said fire was at the rate of 50 cents per hour; that the total supplies, labor, transportation, and incidentals necessarily required in the fighting and extinguishing of said fire amounted to approximately $1,675.04, to the best knowledge and information of this affiant;
That all of said claims were just and proper claims in connection with said matter; that in the vicinity of where said fire raged there are several thousand acres of Government land, which land is covered with grass and timber and it was necessary to protect the said timber and grass and the watershed of said mountains where said timber is located and for that purpose said Fergus County assumed the responsibility of fighting and extinguishing said fire and also for the purpose of protecting the adjoining lands in that vicinity:
If said fire had been permitted to burn unabated the same would have destroyed practically all of the Government timber in the Judith Mountains and much of the privately owned timbers and grasses in said mountains, consisting of many thousands of acres of land;
That the timber growing over said lands hereinbefore mentioned, consists of native yellow pine, fir, and other kinds of timber and trees, much of which is fit for saw logs and lumbering purposes and said lands furnish and supply firewood and timber to the surrounding agricultural country; that the said fire hereinbefore mentioned was completely extinguished by said Fergus County and the crew of men hereinbefore mentioned, employed by Fergus County.
Pat McENERNEY. Subscribed and sworn to before me this 31st day of March, A. D., 1938. (SEAL]
AARON R. SAULL, Notary Public for the State of Montana, Residing at Lewistown, Mont. My commission expires July 9, 1938.
STATE OF MONTANA,
County of Fergus, 88:
That is is the duly elected, qualified and acting clerk and recorder of Fergus County, Mont. and was such at all the times herein mentioned;
That the hereto attached list of claims is hereby incorporated in this affidavit and hereby made a part for all intents and purposes; that each and every item of the same is a full, true, and correct statement of the claim and the amounts