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13-21-105. Damages from fire set in woods or prairie - treble damages during drought conditions


(1) If any person sets fire to any woods or prairie so as to damage any other person, such person shall make satisfaction for the damage to the party injured, to be recovered in an action before any court of competent jurisdiction.


(2) (a) If a state of emergency or disaster due to drought has been declared by the governor at the time a person knowingly sets fire to any woods or prairie as described in subsection (1) of this section, such person may be held liable for treble damages to any injured party.


(b) (I) The provisions of paragraph (a) of this subsection (2) shall not apply to any open burning conducted in the course of agricultural operations or to any state, municipal, or county fire management operations.

(II) Paragraph (a) of this subsection (2) does not apply to any other person seeking to conduct other prescribed or controlled fires such as grassland, forest, or habitat management activities, if such person has first obtained written authority from the director of the division of fire prevention and control in the department of public safety.


Source: G.L. 2150. G.S. 1036. R.S. 08: 2070. C.L. 6310. CSA: C. 50, 9. CRS 53: 41-2-5. C.R.S. 1963: 41-2-5. L. 2002, 3rd Ex. Sess.: Entire section amended, p. 45, 2, effective July 18. L. 2013: (2)(b)(II) amended, (SB 13-083), ch. 249, p.1308, 8, effective May 23.


Cross references: (1) For the criminal penalty for setting fire to woods or prairie, see 18-13-109.

(2) In 2013, subsection (2)(b)(II) was amended by the Colorado Prescribed Burning Act. For the short title and the legislative declaration, see sections 1 and 2 of chapter 249, Session Laws of Colorado 2013.


Statutory interpretation. Sets fire to may be words of strict liability, but the phrase refers to setting fire as an act whose purpose is to start a fire, not to an act whose purpose is otherwise. This section contains no language indicating that the general assembly intended to impose liability on those who do not seek to start a fire. Minto v. Sprague, 124 P.3d 881 (Colo. App. 2005).

Section available to United States as landowner. No reason appears why the United States as a landowner should not avail itself of Colorado statutory provisions which are available to other landowners under like circumstances, including this section. United States v. Boone, 476 F.2d 276 (10th Cir. 1973).

In cases of this character exemplary or punitive damages have no place. Recovery can only be had for damages actually sustained. Spencer v. Murphy, 6 Colo. App. 453, 41 P. 841.

Attorney fees and compensation for plaintiffs services in fighting fire are not recoverable. The damage must be confined to loss by fire, and could not include compensation for services. In regard to the second, attorneys fees are no part of the damage. There is no law for such allowance. They are only given when provided for by statute, and courts are averse to extending the rule, even legally permissible. Spencer v. Murphy, 6 Colo. App. 453, 41 P. 841 (1895).