Power Company Denies Fault, Says Hurricane-Force 140 mph Winds Led To Deadly Wyoming Fire

A Montana power company operating in Wyoming denied fault in a lawsuit alleging its negligence led to the Clark Fire, which killed a Wyoming woman last November. They said there were 140mph winds that day that could have flung branches onto power lines that caused the fire

Clair McFarland

December 02, 20223 min read

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Saying a huge fire in small-town Wyoming stemmed from natural causes and an “act of God,” a power company has denied a Wyoming man’s claims that its negligence led to his wife’s death.    

William Jerome Ruth in November sued Beartooth Electric Cooperative and Asplundh Tree Expert, saying the two companies’ negligence led to his wife’s death in a power-line fire in Clark last year.   

Cynthia Ruth was trapped in her home and died as a large blaze known as the “Clark Fire” reached the home, her husband’s lawsuit states.   

Asplundh has not yet filed a response to William Ruth’s claims, but Beartooth Electric denied allegations of negligence in a Thursday response in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming. The electric company asked the court to dismiss Ruth’s lawsuit and have Ruth reimburse the company’s legal costs.   

Hurricane-Force Winds  

“Ms. Ruth’s tragic death was caused by extreme forces of nature and circumstances sometimes referred to as an ‘Act of God,’ over which (Beartooth) had no control,” wrote Beartooth in its response. “Specifically, weather conditions, including hurricane force winds in excess of 140 mph, that caused the spread of the Clark Fire.”   

The response says a tree limb near Beartooth’s right of way “appears” to have come into contact with a Beartooth powerline during the high winds, igniting the fire. 

Ruth’s complaint, conversely, alleges that Asplundh didn’t properly clear the right of way of tree limbs, and Beartooth didn’t properly inspect Asplundh’s work. 

The fire began late Nov. 14, 2021, and burned 300 acres, including consuming some homes in the Louis L’Amour neighborhood of Clark. 

Woman’s Choices, Trimmer’s Cuts  

Beartooth speculated that Cynthia Ruth’s death was caused by “smoke inhalation or the fire itself,” but denied fault in the matter, saying the woman’s own decision-making, the tree-trimmer’s possible negligence and other parties’ possible involvement also should be considered.   

“Upon information and belief, Ms. Ruth made several decisions during the evacuation of her residence that put her in harm’s way and resulted in her death,” Beartooth alleges. The company reserved the right to change that assertion if the case’s discovery process reveals a different account.   

“The Clark Fire may have been caused by third parties not yet known,” Beartooth continued. 

The company also implicated the tree trimming company as a possible culprit, saying, “if the tree was not properly trimmed by Asplundh, (then) Asplundh bears sole responsibility for any and all damages resulting from its negligence.”   

The case is ongoing in federal court.   

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter