La Canada Country Club sues over Station fire damages

The La Cañada Flintridge Country Club filed a lawsuit Monday claiming the U.S. Forest Service caused nearly $50,000 in damage to its grounds while fighting the August 2009 Station fire.

Firefighting helicopters responding to the blaze drained golf course ponds, damaging irrigation pumps, using thousands of gallons of water billed to the club and scattering sand, tree branches and other debris, according to club President Randy Dreyfuss.

The club filed suit in federal court after the Forest Service denied a 2009 administrative claim in November, said club attorney Burton Mark Senkfor.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Heil confirmed the agency’s denial of the country club’s claim in November but said officials have not yet been served with a copy of the lawsuit.

The Station fire consumed 160,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest, destroyed nearly 90 homes and claimed the lives of two Los Angeles County firefighters assisting the Forest Service.

“We never would have said ‘No, you can’t take some water.’ The fire was raging out of control,” said Dreyfuss. “On the other hand, it doesn’t seem right that we have to foot the bill.”

Dreyfuss said that Forest Service officials failed to heed the club’s warnings that draining too much water from the ponds and stirring up sediment could jam the irrigation pumps with mud and cause their motors to burn out.

The club was also billed for water from hydrants that firefighters used to refill the ponds, he said.

“When we informed them [about potential pump damage], they opened up the hydrant and assured us that following the fire we could put in a claim. But when they got it, they said it wasn’t a valid claim,” said Dreyfuss. “To us that’s just outrageous.”

In addition to replacing damaged pumps and refunding the cost of water, the club seeks compensation for cleanup of debris and sand scattered by the helicopters. The lawsuit asks for $49,528.81.

Senkfor said the government has 60 days to respond to the suit, and a hearing may not be scheduled for months.

Dreyfuss complained that the Forest Service took nearly two years to respond to, and ultimately reject, the club’s damage claim, forcing the suit.

“We really didn’t want to have to file a lawsuit, but they didn’t give us a choice,” said Dreyfuss.

The Forest Service continues to review 32 other private property damage claims related to the Station fire, said Heil.

Twitter: @JoePiasecki

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