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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California

Monday, April 26, 2021

United States Reaches $950,000 Settlement Arising Out of the 2016 “Old Fire” in Stanislaus National Forest

FRESNO, Calif. — Mariposa County resident John “Jack” Welch has agreed to pay $950,000 to settle a claim by the United States against him for damages resulting from a 2016 wildfire that burned nearly 100 acres of National Forest land, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced today.

According to the settlement, federal investigators concluded that Welch ignited the fire, known as the “Old Fire,” on Sept. 13, 2016, while using an excessively worn chainsaw on his property in a high fire hazard area located off Old Yosemite Road in Mariposa County. It was a windy day and the fire spread quickly, burning approximately 100 acres, including 95 acres of land within the Stanislaus National Forest.

The USDA Forest Service spent nearly $1.3 million to extinguish the Old Fire, including the use of substantial air assets to prevent the fire’s spread to neighboring properties and the surrounding National Forest lands.

“Over the past several years, the people of the Eastern District have endured more than their fair share of wildfires.” said Acting U.S. Attorney Talbert. “This Office has been, and continues to be, focused on holding those individuals and corporations who negligently start these fires accountable. We will continue to pursue individuals and corporations, large and small, to recover the fire suppression costs and environmental damages caused by their negligent acts.”

“Our region is thankful that this settlement was reached between all parties to help restore damage to the landscape in Stanislaus National Forest,” said Regional Forester Randy Moore, USDA Forest Service Region 5. “Furthermore, these recovered costs help fund continued firefighting resources to help keep our forest communities safe.”

The settlement is not an admission of any negligence, wrongful conduct or liability.

Since 2012, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California has secured settlements in more than 30 different cases involving wildfire damage to federal lands, with total settlements valued at more than $300 million.

The investigation was conducted with the U.S. Forest Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey D. Wilson handled the case.

Updated April 26, 2021