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Herriman residents frustrated claims not paid a year after fire

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 20 2011 6:01 p.m. MDT

Destroyed guns that were in a safe during the fire now in a pile. Jackie Burns and her son Donovan talk Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, about the fire that took their home and two others in Herriman one year ago.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

HERRIMAN — A year ago, three homes were destroyed and hundreds more suffered smoke damage from a fire started by sparks during machine gun training at Camp Williams.

Even though the Utah National Guard took responsibility for starting the blaze on Sept. 19, 2010, some homeowners say they still haven't received the compensation they were promised.

"They admitted guilt, and they should make it right, but they're not," said Jackie Burns, who lost her home in the fire.

Claims are not handled by the Utah National Guard, but by the U.S. Army. It has paid approximately $4.3 million in claims. It has processed approximately 1,400 claims since the fire, and of those, about 90 remain open.

"The claims that are still outstanding are the difficult ones to document, because obviously everything was lost," Utah National Guard Gen. Brian Tarbet said. "So we're working in a painstaking fashion with those families."

But those who lost the most seem to be the ones still waiting for word. The Burns family lost nearly everything in the Herriman fire. Their home, cars, even irreplaceable pictures and keepsakes were all destroyed.

"It's still very emotional to think about the things we lost in the fire," she said. "I lost antiques. I lost a cabinet that my pioneer great-great-great-grandfather made."

Now the Burns family has a newly rebuilt home thanks to their insurance. Still, many other losses have not been replaced.

"A least we've got a house and we've got some furniture," she said. "The neighbors next door, I hate looking over there and not seeing their house. I hate that they're not next door."

Meantime, military regulations prohibit the Army from paying out any claims related to fighting fires, so the Unified Fire Authority, Unified Police Department and Herriman city have all had their claims denied.

"It's a frustrating development to have the claim denied but not entirely surprising," city spokeswoman Nicole Martin said. "We recognize that there's going to be a long process to get the reimbursement necessary for the fire."

The Army is directing Herriman and the fire and police departments to seek out a FEMA grant. They also had an adjuster in town Tuesday. They say he will spend the week working with many of those families affected and try to settle as many claims as possible.

Email: manderson@desnews.com

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