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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Michael McGough

More Northern California victims who lost homes in Mill fire sue lumber mill owner

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Another lawsuit has been filed against the company that owns a Northern California lumber mill linked to a deadly wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes in Siskiyou County this summer.

A complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court alleges that Roseburg Forest Products Co. conducted operations at its mill “in a reckless manner that they knew or should have known caused an unreasonable risk of catastrophic fire.”

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 18 by attorneys with the law firm Parkinson Benson Potter on behalf of eight plaintiffs, accuses Roseburg of numerous transgressions including negligence as well as health and safety violations.

The plaintiffs are homeowners and renters whose homes were destroyed by the Mill fire, including an 88-year-old woman who, according to the lawsuit, was injured while evacuating and “continues to struggle with nightmares, PTSD and related emotional trauma.”

It is at least the fourth civil lawsuit to be brought against Roseburg in connection with the Mill fire. The 3,935-acre wildfire sparked Sept. 2 near the city of Weed, destroying more than 115 structures and killing two residents.

The latest lawsuit names Roseburg as well as the mill’s safety and operations managers as defendants, claiming the company and its management “have deliberately, and repeatedly, prioritized profits over safety.” The suit seeks compensation for property damage and medical expenses, as well as punitive damages.

The official cause of the blaze remains under investigation, but Cal Fire investigators have focused on a wooden warehouse that Roseburg has acknowledged it used to store hot ash. The company has said that a faulty sprinkler might have allowed the fire to start.

A Sacramento Bee investigation published last month found no evidence that fire inspectors had ever gone inside the wooden warehouse, even as several fires had ignited inside the building over the years.

The recent lawsuit claims Roseburg personnel should have been aware of the region’s very high fire risk due to California’s severe drought conditions and the nearby McKinney fire, also in Siskiyou County, which burned more than 60,000 acres and killed four people just a month earlier.

In the recent 20-page complaint, the plaintiffs’ attorneys point to the “obvious risk of fire” presented by the hot ash storage, alleging Roseburg knowingly operated with a broken fire suppression system.

Roseburg, an Oregon-based veneer manufacturer, resumed full operations at its plant in Siskiyou County on Nov. 9.

According to a company news release, the company 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.

Pete Hillan, a Roseburg spokesman, declined to comment on the recent lawsuit.

“We’re focused on providing the resources Mill fire survivors need now and to rebuild,” Hillan said in an emailed response.


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