For Darnestown man, effects of 2011 fire still smolder -- Gazette.Net


A Darnestown-area man convinced that Montgomery County Fire and Rescue officials are withholding information about a 2011 brush fire that destroyed his shed and damaged his neighbors’ property has filed a lawsuit against the county in a bid to gain more information.

Don Buck, who lives on Brandon Way Road on the border of Gaithersburg and Darnestown, in an April 17 court filing sued County Executive Ike Leggett, along with former Fire and Rescue Chief Richard Bowers and Assistant Chief Scott Graham, Fire and Rescue’s spokesman, saying they are not giving him access to information about the fire that damaged his property.

In the suit, he cited the “failure under the Maryland Information Act ... to allow Donald Buck (and neighbors) to review all documents in the possession and control of the Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue related to the Seneca Creek Fire ...”

“Mr. Buck only has, at this time, the desire to understand why, how, how big, allocations of resources — facts of the fire,” he wrote in the suit.

Buck believes the fire started following an equipment failure from Pepco lines, which run through a right of way behind his house.

Pepco has denied any culpability for the blaze, saying MCFRS determined the fire was unrelated to power reliability issues.

In June, county lawyers asked a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge to dismiss the suit, on the grounds that “the pleadings and exhibits show that the Complaint filed by [Buck] fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and is otherwise moot.”

In a memorandum supporting their motion, county lawyers noted that Buck has filed 13 information requests since the fire burned down his shed and the antique clock movements inside, and that Buck improperly sued Leggett and Bowers. The fire caused about $140,000 worth of damage, of which his insurance initially covered about $50,000. And he has since received much of the rest of the money, he said.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue officials say they have already provided Buck with everything they have.

“We have provided him every one of our files three times, including one time where the chief in charge of the investigation went to his house and went through the report page by page and walked the right of way with him,” Assistant Chief Scott Graham told The Gazette before Buck filed his suit.

“Although the County hand-delivered all documents responsive to Mr. Buck’s PIA requests on October 11, 2012, Mr. Buck remains dissatisfied with the documents he received,” according to the memorandum.

“Mr. Buck’s unsubstantiated allegation that the County failed to produce public records in the form of ‘documents, photos, interviews with eyewitnesses and notes’ ... assumes that the documents exist and are in the County’s possession. ... The County maintains that no public records have been withheld from Mr. Buck and therefore, it can not be required to produce them,” County lawyers wrote.

In a countermotion filed July 2 asking that the suit be heard, Buck wrote that the fire “tremendously impacted” him.

“The ‘Official Report’ is not supported by the limited data from the Montgomery County Fire Department [sic] release of information to Mr. Buck. The fire devastated my attempt to recover personally from helping my son fight cancer and destroyed the workshop full of equipment and tools to re-build my life,” he wrote.