Lawsuits Spread Like Wildfire

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Summer grilling, by Wikimedia Commons user Frettie, licensed by Creative Commons.

Fire

Two lawsuits were filed recently concerning Oregon wildfires that could have been prevented. Disregarding a ban, a family of three built a campfire in extremely dry conditions. While one of the campers slept, the campfire grew into a 200-acre inferno. The state spent $892,000 to extinguish the forest fire, which the family will be held responsible to pay. One of the campers claimed that this fire was an “’unfortunate act of nature.’” The state of Oregon disagreed with his statement.

The second lawsuit focuses on a similar case of negligence, where, in August 2014, a rancher drove his vehicle across dry landscaping. The car exhaust system typically hits 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Those extremely high temperatures created flaming debris, which dropped from the exhaust into tall grass, enflaming 2,700 acres of the surrounding land. The state of Oregon is holding the rancher personally responsible, and is seeking $3.6 million in compensation.

These two lawsuits are reminders that while two-thirds of wildfires are started by people, the state is not hesitant to go after the offending parties.  The state of Oregon has filed similar lawsuits in the past, including a $37 million lawsuit in August 2016, a $13,800 lawsuit in July 2015, a $7.9 million lawsuit in 2014, and a $17,000 lawsuit in August 2012.

For the two pending lawsuits, $4.5 million in damages is a high cost to pay for carelessness.  The costs associated with what goes into extinguishing the wildfires include “helicopters, bulldozers and paying and feeding firefighters,” as well as the restoration of property damaged in the blaze. In addition to these civil lawsuit costs, the offender may also face misdemeanor charges of reckless burning.  While one of the campers in the first lawsuit is facing misdemeanor charges, the rancher in the second case was not charged with any crimes.