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Roseburg Forest Products facing multiple lawsuits after Sept. 2 Mill Fire in Weed

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.

Allegations against Oregon-based Roseburg Forest Products include that the Mill Fire was avoidable and caused by the company’s actions.

Maps show that the fire began at or near Roseburg’s veneer mill in Weed, California. According to a Roseburg press release, the company 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.

"The company is very anxious to get this wrapped up and to start paying claims with insurance money, if indeed it is true that Roseburg’s property was the cause of the fire," said attorney Robert Julian with the San Francisco firm Baker Hostetler, which has been hired by Roseburg.

Roseburg has started distributing portions of a $50 million community fund to help impacted residents, including about 80 residents so far. A press release said the company is not admitting liability by creating the fund.

"We have already begun the process of putting much needed funds in the hands of those truly impacted," said Roseburg spokesman Peter Hillan. "And we're seeing it here, how helpful it is for those folks that are able to walk away with the resources that they need."

But James Frantz, an attorney representing at least six plaintiffs, said this gesture falls short.

"We have two people that died, three were badly burned, and over 100 structures destroyed, and then they’ll throw $50 million at them and hope they go away. I think this is a slap in the face," he said.

Frantz said he expects other plaintiffs to join the suit soon. They are seeking damages due to loss of wages, evacuation expenses, past and future medical expenses, and other costs. The firm's expert will also perform their own investigation of the site to determine how the fire began.

"If it's proven that they knew that storing hot ash was dangerous and could cause harm, [...] then there's a real problem here, and they're gonna be responsible for it," Frantz said.

According to Cal Fire, the Mill Fire burned nearly four thousand acres, destroyed 118 structures, killed two people, and burned three others.

A spokesperson for Cal Fire said their investigation into the fire’s origin is still ongoing.

"Roseburg is cooperating fully with the Cal Fire investigators, and Cal Fire has asked us not to comment on the investigations until their investigation is complete," Julian said.

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 earned her Master's in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.