Source Sacramento Bee
By Micheal McGough
An Oregon wood products manufacturer that operates a Northern California lumber mill linked to September’s deadly Mill Fire has reached settlement agreements with most of those who brought claims against the company, attorneys for the company and for fire victims said Tuesday.
Roseburg Forest Products Co. in a news release said it has agreed in principle with four law firms representing the “majority of claims to settle the families’ property losses, personal injuries and wrongful death claims arising from the Sept. 2 Mill Fire.”
The terms and amounts of the settlements will remain confidential.
The Mill Fire sparked near the city of Weed in Siskiyou County, charring 3,935 acres, killing two residents and destroying more than 115 buildings, most of them homes, while damaging dozens more.
The cause of the deadly Mill Fire has not been officially determined. But Cal Fire personnel have focused their investigation on a wooden warehouse Roseburg has acknowledged it used to store hot ash.
Robert Julian, Roseburg’s lead attorney in the settlements, said the company had a mediation last week with five law firms representing the bulk of roughly 1,000 claimants related to the Mill Fire.
Roseburg reached agreements with four of the involved firms, representing more than 700 people affected by the Mill Fire. Julian said another mediation is scheduled for Thursday, in which the company hopes to reach settlements with all remaining claimants.
Attorney Russell Reiner said his Redding-based firm represents more than 600 clients affected by the fire.
Those clients include plaintiffs who have filed wrongful death claims, bodily injury claims, persons who fled the fire, timber losses, 50 families who lost their homes and other personal property claims including the loss of cherished items in the blaze.
“My firm has reached with Roseburg an agreement, in principle, that will need to be approved by each of my clients,” Reiner told The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday morning.
“These are individual settlements, and under the terms of the agreement, the settlements when agreed upon will be confidential.”
The three other firms reaching agreements were: Parkinson Benson Potter; Singleton Schreiber; and Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.
Reiner said his firm’s settlement agreement was reached Monday night.
Though the settlements and their amounts will be confidential, the intent is that some of the involved money received by homeowners will be used to rebuild homes that burned down in Lincoln Heights, Lake Shastina and along Hoy Road, Reiner said.
Roseburg in its news release said the settlements will be a “catalyst for (the) rebuild of Weed” communities.
Lincoln Heights, a historic Black neighborhood , was ravaged by the Mill Fire.
“It is my clients’ firm desire to rebuild Lincoln Heights,” Reiner said. “I’ve been honored by my clients who have placed their trust in me, to represent them, to give them a voice, to be heard for their tragic losses.”
The announcement of settlement agreements comes a little more than three months after the Mill Fire.
“We were able to get together very quickly and settle,” Julian said. “My hope is to have all the claims resolved” after Thursday’s mediation.
Julian, who represented some 70,000 fire victims in PG&E’s bankruptcy case, said the settlements were reached promptly because the involved lawyers have significant experience dealing with wildfire litigation. He also noted that Roseburg has experienced timber losses from Oregon wildfires in recent years, adding that Roseburg is “very sensitive to the community.”
What caused the Mill Fire near Weed?
A Sacramento Bee investigation published in October found no evidence that fire inspectors had ever gone inside the wooden warehouse Roseburg used to store its hot ash, even as several fires had ignited inside the building over the years.
The company has also said a faulty sprinkler system may have allowed the Mill Fire to start.
The two victims killed in the fire were Lorenza Mondoc Glover, 65, and Marilyn Hilliard, 73.
Glover’s son, Joselito Bereso Candasa, in September filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Roseburg . Glover, a widowed hotel housekeeper and Lincoln Heights resident, died Sept. 2 as she tried to escape the blaze, Candasa’s lawsuit said.
Roseburg has been listed as the defendant in at least four civil lawsuits related to the fire, including one filed Nov. 18 in San Francisco Superior Court in which eight plaintiffs – all residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed – sued the company seeking compensation and punitive damages.
That lawsuit alleged Roseburg acted recklessly with its ash storage and safety protocols, and that the company should have been aware of the region’s high fire risk given California’s severe drought conditions and Siskiyou County’s McKinney Fire, which burned more than 60,000 acres and killed four people just a month before the Mill Fire.
Roseburg continuesin Northern California
According to a company news release, Roseburg removed and replaced its ash mixer and has updated its ash storage protocols.
Roseburg said it notified Cal Fire and Siskiyou County authorities including law enforcement of its reopening plans, according to the news release.
“We know we can’t bring back loved ones nor the homes that were destroyed, but Roseburg’s substantial settlement offers, hopefully, will provide the resources for homeowners to rebuild their houses and the community,” Pete Hillan, a Roseburg spokesperson, said in a prepared statement in Tuesday’s news release.