Feds sue Copper Center fishing charter for $1M over 2019 wildfire

The Klutina River Fire on July 11, 2019. (Brandon Kobayashi/Alaska Smokejumpers)

In an effort to recoup the costs of fighting a 2019 wildfire, the federal government is suing a Copper Center-based fishing charter business and one of its guides, who allegedly started the fire.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, says Grove’s Salmon Charters and guide Joshua McDonald are responsible for negligently starting the Klutina River Fire in July of 2019 and liable for the roughly $1 million price tag on fighting it.

According to the lawsuit, McDonald was guiding a group of four clients fishing near Mile 17 of the Klutina River when he started a fire at the river’s edge to warm the clients and keep bugs away. 

The lawsuit says they were on land managed by the Alaska Native corporation Ahtna Inc. and had an Ahtna permit, but McDonald started the fire despite dry, wildfire-prone conditions, stern warnings from the state not to burn in the area and an Ahtna burn suspension.

The lawsuit says McDonald failed to fully extinguish the fire before he and the clients left, and later that night, someone called to report a one-acre fire, which eventually burned more than 175 acres, most of which was Ahtna land.

Both the Alaska Division of Forestry and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management fought the fire, and a subsequent U.S. Forest Service investigation pinpointed the fire McDonald started as the cause of the larger wildfire, according to the lawsuit.

Reached by phone Wednesday, one of the owners of Groves Salmon Charters declined to comment.

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Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him atcgrove@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Caseyhere

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