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Robin Smugala still has the picture of her scorched, smoking home taken exactly one year ago, a damaged but still-standing victim of the fire that wreaked havoc on the Herriman hillsides.

While repairs on the home are almost complete, the couple is one of many still waiting for the National Guard to pay for the damage. The fire was sparked during a live-fire training exercise at the Army's Camp Williams, on the southern side of the mountain.

Herriman residents have filed roughly 1,300 claims since the fire, and the Army has paid out about $4.3 million to cover the damage. But as of Wednesday, 34 claims remain open, leaving families like the Smugalas wondering if the Army National Guard will honor its promise to put things right.

The National Guard took full responsibility for the fire, which began on Sept. 19, 2010, and destroyed around 3,500 acres and three homes, causing the evacuation of about 5,000 residents.

The Smugala home was miraculously still standing after the fire, which came within feet of the log cabin. A decorative rock wall offered some protection, but the stain on the logs was scorched and windows cracked from the heat, Smugala said. Their 2.6 acre lot received most of the damage, as the fire wiped out hundreds of scrub oaks that protect the hillside from flooding and snow accumulation.

The Smugalas received about $22,000 from their homeowners insurance, but still had about $25,000 in damage that they believed the Guard should cover.

At first, the repairs and claims seemed to be going smoothly. The National Guard set up a claims office in Utah, and reimbursed the couple for repair work based on receipts they submitted. The Smugalas received about $15,000 for damage to the house and land, and also filed their homeowners insurance claim to repaint one wall and replant some shrubs.

But when the National Guard's fire claims office was moved to Fort Carson, Colo., things became contentious.

The Smugalas say they were still owed about $10,000 for repairs when a new claims officer informed them the system for reimbursement had changed. Now the family would get a flat $36,000 — the appraised amount by which their property had been devalued immediately after the fire and more than enough to cover their costs, the claims office said. The family felt the offer was more than generous.

But that offer was rescinded a few days later, when the family was once again told the process had changed.

"Every time we get a new [claims] adjuster, we start over," said Dave Smugala.

The Army said it now would evaluate their reimbursement based on the value of a vacant lot, since the home had received minor damage. That meant the Smugalas were only entitled to about $5,400, and may actually owe the Army money.

"The U.S. has paid you more than required under UT [sic] law," said claims division chief Benjamin Kinsley in an Aug. 24 email to Robin Smugala provided to the Tribune. "Whether the amount that was overpaid will be deducted from any future settlement has not been decided. You may still submit evidence of damage for consideration."

Kinsley was in Utah this week to meet with families with outstanding claims, hoping to close out most of the 90 claims that remain open. Some claims still are not resolved for various reasons, the Utah National Guard said in a statement, including active negotiations, failure to submit proper documentation and claimants still assessing damages.

But the Army remains committed to reimbursing all eligible claims, said a statement from the Fort Carson claims office. Claimants may file through Sept. 18, 2012.

"Each claim is adjudicated on its merits," the statement said. "It has been and will continue to be our first priority to ensure those affected by this regrettable event are fairly compensated for their losses while being mindful of regulatory guidance and the law."

The lagging response, including a meeting with claims division chief Kinsley Tuesday, has lead the Smugalas to despair over ever receiving the remaining $10,600 they feel they are owed for damage to their home. The claims office will take another look at the property value assessment, Robin Smugala said Wednesday, but it is unlikely they will receive any more money for landscaping and the sprinkler system they have had to install to keep the young trees and shrubs growing.

"I'm now spending money on things that are no fault of my own," Robin Smugala said. "I don't want to owe the government for them burning my property."

The family will hold their second annual "We Survived the Fire Party" in a few weeks, when their son returns home on leave from the Army. But if his employer refuses to fully reimburse his parents, he'll be spending Christmas alone in Germany, Robin Smugala said.

kdrake@sltrib .com Twitter: @Katie_Drake —

Making a claim

To schedule a meeting regarding a claim resulting from the Herriman fire, or for questions regarding the claims process, call the Utah National Guard Office of the State Judge Advocate at 801-432-4980.