This huge column of smoke towered above the north side of the Catalinas during the Bullock Fire.

Aaron J. Latham / Arizona Daily Star 2002

A federal judge has denied the claim of Oracle-area residents that their properties were destroyed in a backburn set by the U.S. Forest Service during the 2002 Bullock Fire.

U.S. District Court Judge Cindy Jorgenson ruled that the fire that destroyed the summer cabins of Gregory and Victoria Green and Starr DeVarona and John Ervin was the main Bullock Fire.

Jorgenson also rejected the property owners’ contention that they could have taken action to save their properties if they had been notified by the Forest Service.

The Bullock Fire burned across 30,000 acres of mostly Forest Service land on the north side of the Santa Catalina Mountains in 2002.

An interagency firefighting team stopped it at the Catalina Highway before it could burn into the village of Summerhaven, much of which was destroyed by the Aspen Fire the following summer.

Jorgenson had initially rejected the claims in 2008, saying the government had immunity from liability for actions that are “susceptible to a policy analysis grounded in social, economic or political concerns.”

The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned that ruling, and said the plaintiffs deserved a trial on the question of whether the lack of notification deprived them of an option to try to protect the property themselves.

DeVarona testified during the trial in December that she could have borrowed heavy equipment from nearby miners and ranchers to build a firebreak.

DeVarona owns 28 acres along the Mount Lemmon Control Road, including a former Boy Scout cabin and two outbuildings that burned during the fire.

The Greens bought 20 acres with three buildings from DeVarona in 1991. An adobe structure with a metal roof survived the fire. Two furnished cabins burned.

In her ruling, issued July 31, Jorgenson said the homeowners had failed to prove that the Forest Service’s failure to notify them about burnout operations had caused them harm.

They did not prove that “the burnout fire caused damage to the plaintiffs’ properties as opposed to the Bullock Fire,” she wrote.

They also did not prove that “even if they had received prior notice that they could have taken sufficient measures to reasonably protect their properties.”

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.