The Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative is facing lawsuits by insurance companies and an expected class action by the Branch Law Firm over the 2011 Las Conchas Fire, which burned dozens of homes and more than 100,000 acres in the Jemez Mountains.
The fire was sparked when a tree fell on a power line owned by the rural cooperative.
The cooperative’s general manager, Wayne Sowell, said Jemez Mountains Electric will argue the tree that fell on the power line had been standing on private land 60 feet away from the power line.
“Our easement only extends for 20 feet on either side of the line,” he said. “We can’t control private-property trees.”
Sowell said the class-action lawsuit likely will be subordinate to the insurance claims, which to date total more than $20 million.
Attorneys at the Branch Law Firm confirmed they plan to file a lawsuit and said they will release more information in the future.
The Las Conchas Fire started June 26, 2011, in the Jemez Mountains and roared quickly to life, sweeping through the small Las Conchas community and destroying 63 homes and 49 outbuildings. By the time it was contained, the fire had burned across 156,593 acres, including one-third of Bandelier National Monument and the upper portion of Santa Clara Canyon.
The lawsuits add another financial challenge to the rural cooperative, which serves 26,000 customers in portions of Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties, including eight pueblos and two tribes. The cooperative is negotiating right-of-way easements with pueblos and tribes, which will amount to payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.