United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
U.S. Attorney’s Office Reaches Two Settlements For $29.5 Million With PG&E Regarding Damage Caused By Two Forest Fires
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
CONTACT: Lauren Horwood
March 15, 2012
PHONE: (916) 554-2706
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced today that the United States has settled two lawsuits it had filed seeking recovery for forest fires on National Forest land in the Eastern District of California for $29.5 million. The fires — known as the “Freds Fire” and the “Sims Fire” — both ignited in 2004 and collectively burned over 7,600 acres of National Forest.
The Freds Fire ignited on October 13, 2004 on Eldorado National Forest land in El Dorado County when a contractor for pacific gas and Electric Company, Davey Tree Surgery Company, caused a tree to fall into a PG&E transmission line. The transmission line snapped and fell to the ground, sparking the fire. The Freds Fire burned for three days, costing more than $3 million to suppress. In its wake, the fire destroyed more than 32 million board feet of timber and old growth forest that provided habitat to the California spotted owl. Davey Tree Surgery Company paid the United States $12 million to settle the suit. Assistant United States Attorney Glen Dorgan handled the case.
The Sims Fire ignited on July 27, 2004 on Six Rivers National Forest land in Trinity County when a decayed 100-foot-tall Douglas-fir tree broke and struck a PG&E transmission line, causing an electrical event that ignited the surrounding ground fuels. The fire burned for approximately five days in the Six Rivers and the Shasta-Trinity National Forests, and cost nearly $5 million to suppress. The fire destroyed more than 26.2 million board feet of timber and several hundred acres of old growth habitat for several endangered, threatened or special status species, including the California northern spotted owl. The United States sued PG&E and its tree inspector — Western Environmental Consultants Inc. — for failing to identify and remove the hazard tree that started the fire. Under the settlement announced today, PG&E and Western have agreed to pay $17.5 million to settle the lawsuit. Both defendants deny liability for the fire. Assistant United States Attorney Richard Elias handled the case.
“These settlements reflect the value we all place on our treasured National Forests,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “Restoration projects funded by the settlement will have a direct environmental benefit in our district by helping to heal the beautiful Eldorado, Six Rivers, and Shasta-Trinity National Forests. Our office will continue to aggressively pursue recovery against those whose conduct destroys precious public resources.”
U.S. Forest Service’s Regional Forester Randy Moore said: “We anticipate these settlement funds will allow us to achieve our ecological restoration goals on the forests impacted by these fires.”
The settlement funds will be used for reforestation efforts to replant the burned trees, which is very costly especially in high-severity areas where natural regeneration is unlikely to occur.
Since 2006, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has recovered $192,848,776 in litigation relating to fires on federal lands in the Eastern District of California. Over $51 million has been recovered in just the last two years. Several significant fire cases are currently in litigation.
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