Cole Creek Fire Lawsuit Moves Toward Trial
A jury will decide what, if any, liability the City of Casper has in a 2015 fire that destroyed more than a dozen homes.
In 2016, the City of Casper claimed that under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act, it can't be liable for more than $500,000 in damages resulting from the Cole Creek Fire.
The fire originated in a woodchip pile at the city landfill in October 2015.
However, in January, Natrona County District Court Judge Catherine Wilking ruled that "genuine issues of material fact exist regarding whether the fire constituted a 'single occurrence.'"
In the ruling, Wilking notes that a landfill employee submitted an affidavit listing multiple potential causes of the blaze.
The city appealed the ruling to the Wyoming Supreme Court where it was quickly dismissed in May, according to court filings.
It's not clear why, but Wilking said she was unaware that the supreme court dismissed the appealing. She said during a status conference Tuesday that she only became aware of the matter after as she was looking into another case filing and saw the ruling. Supreme court dismissals are not published or announced, Wilking said.
Then she admonished the attorneys in the case for dragging their feet.
"No one has filed anything since the dismissal," Wilking said. "That's very troubling to me.
"This case needs to move forward and it's not doing that."
Wilking added that the attorneys — from several law firms — in the case are more than competent and that "I shudder to think" where the case would end up had she not scheduled Tuesday's status hearing.
Attorneys and parties in the case will be informed of filing deadlines and ultimately when the trial will happen.
One lawyer speculated that the trial could take as long as six weeks.
Roughly 20 people, many who lost their homes, filed into a courtroom gallery in the Townsend Justice Center for Tuesday's hearing.
Robert Gilmore Sr. was one of those people. He and many others have been unable to afford or find a lawyer to represent them in the case.
Gilmore said he built a house of his own that was destroyed in the fire. Even worse, he received an insurance payout fitting a home not even half the size of his.
"There are a lot of Davids here," Gilmore said.
Juan Sauceda said he has been homeless since the fire destroyed his house. After the fire, health problems led to him losing his commercial driver's license and his job.
"We lost everything," Sauceda said. "Don't forget about us."