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Law firm urges fire victims to sue agency

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/07/26 18:33

A California law firm is running television ads in the Reno-Lake Tahoe area seeking potential plaintiffs who want to file lawsuits over the loss of their homes in a big wildfire last month. The ad tells viewers that if they lost a home on a lot with pine needles, shrubs or trees, they might be entitled to compensation. The fire destroyed 254 homes and 75 other structures in late June near the city of South Lake Tahoe. Fliers posted on trees in the burned area also urge residents to mount a lawsuit against the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which enforces environmental regulations in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Some Tahoe residents have blamed the agency for the fire, saying the agency's regulations aimed at preserving the clarity of the lake made it difficult to clear pine needles, trim brush and cut trees around properties to create defensible space.

In the subdivision damaged in the Angora fire, an assessment found that 19 percent to 34 percent of the homes had created defensible space.

Larry Parker, the personal injury lawyer cited in the television ads, did not return a telephone call by the Associated Press to his Long Beach office Tuesday seeking comment.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that the firm sent the newspaper an e-mail Monday that said the firm "has represented over 100,000 injury victims during the past 30 years and recovered over $750,000,000 for its clients."

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency officials said they've seen the ads and the fliers but haven't received any notification of legal action. The agency says it relaxed tree-cutting policies in recent years and can't be blamed for the blaze.

"We've tried to convey clearly that most defensible-space work is possible under existing rules," said Julie Regan, agency spokeswoman.

"If you look at the work that's been done in Incline Village, it's been done under the same rules as the South Shore," she told the newspaper.

"It's unfortunate that some businesses and attorneys are trying to take advantage of this community by using scare tactics."

Agency regulations say: "Leave the 'duff' layer of pine needles in your yard -- do not rake them all up. The 'duff' layer is the dark area at the ground level where the pine needles are decomposing. This matter does not burn easily."

Other residents said they didn't want agency inspectors on their property because they fear they will be cited for violations of the agency's erosion-control measures.

That fear creates a "paralysis" among homeowners who want to make changes on their property, residents and fire experts said last month.

Agency officials say the regulations weren't responsible for the blaze but are open to changes.

"We have been open to amending policies and ordinances in an effort to better address fire safety at Lake Tahoe," John Singlaub, the agency's executive director, said. "Following the Angora fire, a robust community debate is in order to help prevent such a catastrophic event from occurring in the future."


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