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Caldor Fire victims collect claims to sue Forest Service for Grizzly Flats destruction

Fire victims aim to sue U.S. Forest Service for Grizzly Flats destruction
Fire victims aim to sue U.S. Forest Service for Grizzly Flats destruction 03:45

GRIZZLY FLATS – Caldor Fire survivors are looking to sue the U.S. Forest Service, claiming they were negligent in protecting Grizzly Flats from destruction.

Fire victims said the claims they filed back in August 2023 have been denied, so now they are trying to hire a law firm to take the case to federal court.

"People think we are going after the money. I just want the Forest Service to answer for what they did and did not do," said Mac, who lost his home in the Caldor Fire.

On August 17, 2021, the Caldor Fire tore through and destroyed the Grizzly Flats community of El Dorado County in fewer than 15 minutes. There may be signs of rebuilding, but fire victims said they still have no answers from the Forest Service.

Mac is one of the many still living out of a trailer on his burned property in Grizzly Flats.

"I even left my cats and I cry about it every day," Mac said.

The mountain community as Mac knew it is no more, with more burnt trees than buildings.

"It is incredibly painful for everybody involved and I think everyone deals with it in different ways," said Caldor Fire victim Jon Jochem.

Jochem is one of the nearly 300 fire survivors whose claim against the Forest Service in August 2023 was denied.

"We fully expected to be denied," he said.

He explained how the denial was all part of their plan for prosecution. It now opens the door for a law firm to pick up their case and take the Forest Service to federal court.

"We know it's important to the attorneys to see how many people," Mac said.

They are working to collect the claims of every Caldor Fire victim possible to send to the law firm they are hopeful will take the case.

"For 20 years, they knew Grizzly Flats was in ground zero of a horrific wildfire, so they had a lot of time to work on it, and they didn't do very much," Jochem said.

Fire victims believe the Forest Service's unfinished fire mitigation projects pre-fire would have saved the town from this fate.

The Forest Service has said it did everything it could to save Grizzly Flats from the flames, but a CBS News 60 Minutes investigation showed the Forest Service shut down fire operations on the first night of the fire. Then, the next day, they let nearly all Cal Fire crews go before their replacements could arrive.

"What makes this difficult is getting information from the Forest Service about what actually took place," Jochem said.

Jochem estimates the claims may amount to a $150-200 million lawsuit.

"We are not just sad, we are angry," Mac said.

If you are a Caldor Fire victim who filed a claim back in August and want to be a part of this federal lawsuit, Jochem said to email your claim to or call (530) 391-0128.

Since the denial of each individual claim, the fire victims now have until June to hire a law firm to take up their case to sue the Forest Service.

The Forest Service said the tort claims from August are not handled locally, so the agency's latest understanding is that the claims are still with the Office of General Counsel in Washington D.C. for their determination.

The Forest Service has been active with multiple fire mitigation projects out in the El Dorado National Forest since the Caldor Fire. The Caldor Fire Restoration Project encompasses the Placerville, Pacific and Amador Ranger Districts.

The federal agency highlighted these projects:

  • Grizzly Flat Community Fuel Break information is located here Forest Service (
  • Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort tree removal project with the Eldorado Resource Conservation District. Helicopter and ground-based operations felled approximately 280 acres of hazard trees within the ski area boundary. To date, more than 18 million board feet of sawlogs have been removed from Tahoe Forest Products. An additional 1,000 tons of cull and biomass material have been processed on-site and removed.
  • Hazard Tree Phase 1 Awarded. Administered by GBI Stewardship Agreement. A total of 1,849 acres across approximately 24 miles of road will be accomplished when completed. A total of 24 million board feet of timber products are planned to be removed from the project area.
  • 2,058 acres of machine pile burning on the Grizzly Flat Fuel Break.
  • 39 acres of machine pile burning at Grizzly Flat Fire Station.
  • 29 acres of underburning on the Marshall Mine RX.
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