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Spokane – William D. Hyslop, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that a settlement has been reached with Okanogan County Electric Cooperative, Inc. (“OCEC”) and its insurer, requiring the payment of $1.1 million to the United States in fire suppression costs resulting from the Twisp River Fire that began on August 19, 2015.
According to information in the settlement agreement, the $1.1 million settlement recovers a large portion of the United States Forest Service’s costs incurred in suppressing the wildfire. The United States’ $1.1 million recovery was part of a larger settlement of claims that were brought separately by other plaintiffs, including a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) firefighter and the State of Washington, who sought to recover damages for personal injury and property damage caused by the 2015 Twisp River Fire.
The Twisp River Fire ultimately burned approximately 11,200 acres in north-central Washington and claimed the lives of three USFS firefighters and severely injured another USFS firefighter.
The United States claimed the Twisp River Fire ignited due to contact between a tree branch and OCEC’s electrical distribution line. The United States further claimed OCEC failed to properly maintain a vegetation management plan designed to detect and prevent the tree branch from contacting the distribution line. OCEC denied these allegations.
By its terms and as is standard for settlements of claims, the settlement agreement is not an admission of any wrongful conduct or liability by OCEC, nor is it a concession that the United States’ contentions are not well founded. Rather, it is a resolution of claims disputed by parties.
United States Attorney Hyslop said, “Nothing can undo the losses suffered by our brave fire fighters and others affected by this – as well as other – wildfires that have plagued our communities in recent years. Everyone, including individuals, businesses and power companies, must be vigilant to protect our state and our citizens from the ravages of forest fires. This settlement should send a clear message that the United States is serious about holding accountable those who cause or contribute to wildfires, and will pursue aggressively the recovery of costs incurred by the United States taxpayers in fighting these fires.”
“Firefighting is a brave and selfless act performed by highly-skilled women and men within our Agency,” said Glenn Casamassa, Pacific Northwest Regional Forester. “While this settlement doesn’t bring back the firefighters who lost their lives in this wildfire, recovering the costs of these efforts helps to allow this important work to continue.”
The case was investigated by the USFS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The United States’ claim was prosecuted by Joseph P. Derrig, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, Civil Division.