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    United States Attorney's Office
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    Thom Mrozek
    Public Affairs Officer

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    Release No. 10-134

    September 24, 2010


    2003 Wildfire Charred over 32,000 Acres in Los Padres National Forest

    LOS ANGELES – Two Ventura County companies have agreed in court papers filed today to pay the United States more than $5.4 million to compensate the Forest Service for costs incurred after the companies allegedly started the 2003 Piru Fire, which burned more than 63,000 acres, about half of which was in the Los Padres National Forest.

    The Piru Fire began when the two companies were performing construction work on the Juan Fernandez Boat Launching Facility Project within the Lake Piru Recreation Area on October 23, 2003. Employees of the companies were installing a corrugated steel culvert pipe located near dry brush when sparks were caused by a cutting tool, which ignited the fire.

    In a settlement agreement filed today in United States District Court, the Ventura-based Berry Engineering General Contractors, Inc. agreed to pay $5 million to resolve a civil lawsuit brought last year by the United States Attorney’s Office.

    A subcontractor on the project for the United Water Conservation District, Mendez Concrete, Inc., of Santa Paula, agreed to pay $447,423.

    Insurance companies for the contractors are paying the settlements on behalf of the contractors.

    “As wildfire season begins in drought-ravaged Southern California, everyone who lives in, works in or uses public lands should be especially vigilant,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “In the case of the Piru Fire, the negligence of construction workers led to a fire that burned more than 63,000 acres. Even though the fire was not the result of arson, those responsible must pay the price.”

    The lawsuit filed by the United States alleged that the companies allowed an employee to use a gas-powered circular saw to cut a bolt from the drainage conduit, causing sparks, which started the fire. The contractors should have had a fire extinguisher on hand, but none was available when the fire started, the civil complaint alleged.

    The payments from the two companies are due within two weeks. Once payment is received by the United States, the parties in the lawsuit will jointly ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit and end the case.

    Berry Engineering and Mendez Concrete agreed to pay the settlement without admitting wrongdoing.

    The United States Forest Service responded to the Piru Fire and suppressed it. The Forest Service later provided emergency rehabilitation in the burn area. The Piru Fire injured or destroyed 32,534 acres of National Forest System lands, as well as other property of the United States.


    Release No. 10-134

    Return to the 2010 Press Release Index