Electric co-op sued over fire

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By Martin Salazar

The Mora-San Miguel Electric Co-op has been hit with a lawsuit claiming that its negligence caused the 10,000-acre Tres Lagunas Fire last May that burned for weeks and damaged land owned by two property owners.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in state District Court in Santa Fe on behalf of David Old, his businesses — Old Wood and the Viveash Ranch — and River Bend Ranch LLC. It seeks unspecified compensatory, punitive and treble damages, along with attorney fees and expenses for bringing the lawsuit.

The properties in question are in San Miguel County north of the Village of Pecos.

Co-op officials didn’t immediately respond to a message left at their Mora County office late Thursday morning.

The lawsuit alleges that the fire resulted from the co-op’s failure to cut down a tree believed to be 150 feet in height and to have been dead for several years. Dry and windy conditions caused the tree to break, and portions of it fell on the power lines, sparking the blaze, the complaint states.

“The tree was of such a height, and was in such a condition of deterioration, as to present an immediate and unreasonable risk of falling and creating a danger to the adjoining electrical equipment owned by defendant,” the suit alleges.

The suit states that the co-op has a utility easement and would have been able to access the property to cut down the tree.

The tree was on the River Bend Ranch, but the plaintiffs contend that the co-op discouraged land owners from removing “danger trees” because the co-op feared that it would result in damage to its equipment.

The suit also alleges that the co-op has engaged in a pattern and practice of ignoring or not responding in a timely manner to requests to remove trees that are endangering power lines “creating an unreasonable risk of harm or damage to property.”

The plaintiffs are accusing the co-op of negligence and violations of the Unfair Practice Act, among other things.

“The forest fire destroyed timber on thousands of acres, including a substantial portion of the lands owned by plaintiffs, and burned for approximately three weeks,” the suit states.

Old and his businesses are represented by Ray M. Vargas II of the Vargas Law Firm. River Bend Ranch, LLC is represented by D. Diego Zamora of the Zamora Law Firm.