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Roseburg Forest Products initiates settlement discussions after Mill Fire lawsuits

Two Firefighters standing on a pile of burnt rubble. One is holding a fire hose and spraying water into the rubble.
Erik Neumann
/
Jefferson Public Radio
Two firefighters stamping out fire in the Lake Shastina community from the Mill Fire.

The company has begun settlement discussions in multiple lawsuits alleging that its actions caused the fire in Siskiyou County in September.

Maps show that the Sept. 2 fire began at or near Roseburg’s veneer mill in Weed, California. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

"It's our view that they're 100% at fault for this happening," said James Frantz, an attorney representing about 25 plaintiffs whose homes burned. "This is a very significant case with significant misconduct on the part of Roseburg, so I'm not surprised they want to try to get it behind them right now."

Roseburg Forest Products, which is based in Springfield, has not admitted responsibility for the fire, which burned nearly four thousand acres. According to Cal Fire, 118 structures were destroyed, and two people were killed. Roseburg is investigating whether a third-party water spraying machine failed to sufficiently cool hot ash that's ejected from a generator, thereby igniting the fire.

Roseburg spokesman Peter Hillan said the company is trying to be a good community partner in seeking these settlements.

"It's the right thing to do. We want to make sure that those who were truly displaced and affected by the fire have the resources to not just get through the immediate evacuation period, but also to rebuild and bring the community back," he said.

Frantz and Hillan said the negotiations are still in the early stages at this point. No details about settlement amounts were provided.

"The sooner we can deal with the number of plaintiffs, the better off the community is," Hillan said.

Frantz's clients have not agreed to a settlement. They have been seeking seeking damages due to loss of wages, evacuation expenses, past and future medical expenses, and other costs.

When he learned about the potential settlement, Frantz said, "It's about time."

"It's gonna get worse before it gets better for [Roseburg]," he said.

The company has also been distributing portions of a $50 million community fund to help impacted residents, including about 2,500 residents so far. A press release said the company is not admitting liability by creating the fund.

Jane Vaughan began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media. Jane recently earned her Master's in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.