Two attorneys experienced in representing victims of wildfires will be filing a “mass action” lawsuit against Pacific Power, citing the company’s negligence in the ignition of the Archie Creek Fire.
The fire, which ignited in the early morning hours of Sept. 8, burned nearly 100,000 acres within its first 24 hours.
Jeff Mornarich, a partner at the Roseburg firm Dole Coalwell, announced Monday that his firm has enlisted Mikal Watts of Watts Guerra in San Antonio, and Robert Julian of BakerHostetler in San Francisco.
Mornarich, a longtime Glide resident, spoke Monday of seeing the fire’s devastating effects on “our citizens, our forests and the beautiful North Umpqua River.”
After speaking with multiple witnesses and affected residents — 109 homes were lost in the fast-moving blaze — Mornarich said he believes evidence exists that would “support victim claims that the Archie Creek Fire was caused by the negligent acts of Pacific Power.”
Multiple eyewitnesses reported that early on the morning of Sept. 8 during a strong wind storm, a tree was blown into a Pacific Power electrical line, but did not immediately start a fire, according to the statement released Tuesday. Power was lost at 3:30 a.m. in the Susan Creek area due to trees and limbs blowing onto the lines causing them to short out, according to the statement.
“Our belief is that Pacific Power negligently re-energized the electrical lines without removing trees and limbs, which caused the fire in the Susan Creek Drainage,” Mornarich said to Tuesday’s statement.
Last December, the team of Watts and Julian successfully secured a $13.5 billion lawsuit against California’s Pacific Gas & Electric in the wake of two of California’s most deadly and devastating wildfires.
The 2018 Camp Fire claimed 88 lives and destroyed 95% of the structures in the towns of Paradise and Concow, and the 2017 Tubbs Fire, which destroyed more than 2,800 homes in the city of Santa Rosa and claimed 22 lives over three counties. The settlement also helped cover claims from victims of the 2015 Butte Fire and the 2016 Ghost Ship Fire, an electrical fire that killed 36 people at a party in an artist warehouse in Oakland.
In all, more than 70,000 victims were represented in the settlement.
Although there was no loss of life directly related to the Archie Creek Fire, hundreds were displaced in a matter of hours, and many homes were reduced to a pile of rubble on a concrete foundation.
Dole Coalwell has been a firm in Douglas County for 110 years, but said in a statement released Tuesday that “the firm has never witnessed more devastation to Douglas County’s citizens, timber industry and the North Umpqua River region than the damages caused by the Archie Creek Fire.”
Unlike a class action lawsuit, this “mass action” suit means that each plaintiff’s case is separate. Mornarich wrote that the lawsuits will address only those damages not covered by an individual’s insurance. He also said it was a contingency-free agreement: if for some reason an individual plaintiff does not receive recovery, there will be no payment to the joint law firms.
There will be a public information meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 in the Glide High School gym to address residents’ questions. Representatives of Dole Coalwell will be on hand, while Watts and Julian will lead the meeting.
As of Wednesday morning, Pacific Power had not returned a request for comment.