Idaho Offers Settlement To Couple In Forest Fire Case The Couple Unknowingly Towed A Burning Car. It Sparked A Fire That Cost $1.3 Million To Put Out.

Posted: October 02, 1993

The state of Idaho has offered to settle out of court a $1.3 million lawsuit it filed against a retired Scranton-area couple who inadvertently started a forest fire near Boise last year, a state official said yesterday.

The state, which alleged that Frederick and Jeanne Howard started the blaze when a car they were towing behind their motor home caught fire, decided to settle for $355,000, the maximum money believed to be provided in the Howards' insurance policies.

But Idaho Deputy Attorney General Terry Anderson said the decision, reached Thursday by the state Land Board, also called for the Howards' insurance companies to reveal the full amounts of the insurance and for the Howards to sign an affidavit stating that their other assets did not exceed $500,000.

Roger Mattes, a lawyer for the Howards, declined to comment. The couple, who live in Lake Ariel, east of Scranton, could not be reached. In an interview last spring, they said their insurance coverage totalled about $350,000.

The forest fire started when the Howards were driving in their 31-foot, second-hand motor home along a scenic highway north of Boise on July 17, 1992, towing a Honda Civic. The right rear tire on the Honda apparently blew, then caught fire as the Howards drove on unaware of what was happening.

As they drove, sparks and pieces of burning rubber ignited the dry underbrush along the road and eventually spread into a forest fire that consumed 6,258 acres. Hundreds of firefighters, six aircraft and several bulldozers took four days to control the fire.

Frederick Howard, 67, a World War II Marine Corps aviator, and Jeanne Howard, 71, drove for eight miles before they realized the trouble and pulled over. By then, much of the Honda was in flames, along with a lot of the countryside.

A few months after they got home, Idaho billed them $1,313,105.10 for fighting the fire, then sued to collect.

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