CALIFORNIA (From news reports) -- Pacific Bell Telephone Co. is suing an Oregon-based timber company, claiming negligence by Roseburg Forest Products Co. sparked the 2022 Mill Fire in Siskiyou County and cost the AT&T subsidiary more than $1 million in equipment losses as the blaze ripped through the community of Weed.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Sacramento, says the deadly fire was caused by Roseburg's failure "to prudently and safely maintain its facility and operations" at a veneer mill in Weed.
The Sept. 2, 2022, fire raged for 12 days, killed two people, destroyed 118 structures and burned nearly 4,000 acres, the lawsuit says.
"Among the property destroyed in the Mill Fire were communications lines, equipment, and infrastructures belonging to plaintiffs, according to the suit, which claims Roseburg installed an inadequate sprinkler system inside the veneer facility, which had had fires break out previously in 2015 and 2017.
A Roseburg spokesman said the lawsuit came without warning or efforts to contact the firm.
"We were surprised by this filing because no one from Pacific Bell reached out to us as did the dozens of parties and lawyers with whom we've worked cooperatively in the Mill Fire recovery effort," Pete Hillan said. "Roseburg has settled 95 to 98 percent of the property damage claims, all claims of the insurance companies, and the claims of the City of Weed.
"We will address this claim as we have others, guided by what's best for the recovery of the Weed and Lake Shastina communities."
The company has been the target of at least four lawsuits stemming from the fire and said last year that it had reached settlement agreements with most of the plaintiffs.
Weed City Manager Todd Rundel announced last June that Roseburg had agreed to pay $7.25 million to help rebuild portions of Weed damaged in the fire.
Roseburg has operated the veneer plant in Weed for 40 years and employs 145 people in Weed.
Area residents said following the fire that they believed the blaze began at the mill site, and a Bee investigation found there were no records of fire inspectors visiting the site before the Mill Fire broke out.
The lawsuit says the veneer plant processes logs and chips to manufacture veneer, and that Roseburg burned wood chips during the process to produce electricity that is fed into the grid for use by Siskiyou County.
"The fuel Roseburg used for the plant included byproducts of its wood processing, such as wood chips," the suit says. "Once burned, the wood became a hot ash byproduct."
The suit adds that Roseburg removed the hot ash and stored it in a large wooden shed built in the 1920s.
"The hot ash was flammable and could ignite a fire if not properly cooled or treated," the suit says, adding that "Roseburg knew that the hot ash on its premises posed a fire risk."
"Fire ignitions from the hot ash were typical at the facility, and a matter of common knowledge to Roseburg's management and employees overseeing operations and working at the facility," the suit says.
The suit alleges negligence and other wrongful conduct and seeks damages and attorney fees.