The Roseburg law firm of Dole Coalwell formally filed suit Friday in Douglas County Circuit Court, accusing Pacific Power and its parent company, PacifiCorp, of negligence when it came to the Archie Creek and French Creek fires, which started in the early morning hours on Sept. 8, east of Glide.
Dole Coalwell attorney Jeff Mornarich filed the 52-page complaint Friday on behalf of plaintiffs Philip and Cassie Strader as well as Timothy Goforth and Kathy Kreiter.
The complaint alleges the power company was at fault for causing the Archie Creek Fire specifically, refusing to de-energize power transmission lines despite receiving warnings of strong easterly winds combined with high temperatures.
The lawsuit is seeking up to $21 million in damages for area residents.
“Despite multiple weather and fire hazard warnings indicating severe winds would begin blowing through the area on Sept. 7 — and despite widespread knowledge that the area was suffering from critical drought conditions — the Pacific Power Defendants elected not to de-energize their transmission or distribution power lines,” read a statement from Dole Coalwell pertaining to the 52-page complaint.
The complaint alleges that Pacific Power was negligent in re-energizing impacted power lines at around 3:30 a.m. Sept. 8, in the midst of the unseasonably strong east wind storm.
Approximately five hours later, Pacific Power is alleged to have tried to re-energize more damaged lines “without first inspecting them for damage or removing downed trees and limbs,” which the plaintiffs argue was the cause of a string of fires which became known as the Archie Creek Fire.
The Straders own the Strader Ranch north of Glide at the end of French Creek Road. The Strader Ranch has been classified as a “Century Ranch” by the Oregon Farm Bureau, meaning the same family has worked that land for more than 100 years.
The ranch was impacted by both fires. First by the French Creek Fire — largely a natural cover or grass fire — and later by the Archie Creek Fire as it worked its way around the western base of Mount Scott through thick timber.
The French Creek Fire’s final footprint was estimated at 495 acres. Archie grew to 131,542 acres.
Archie’s impact on the eastern edge of the Strader Ranch cost the family “hundreds of acres of merchantable timber, miles of fencing and stands of young Douglas fir trees they planted on a succession plan for sustainable (timber) harvest in future years,” Mornarich said.
The Archie Creek Fire claimed 109 homes east of Glide, with the majority of the losses in the Idleyld Park and Mount Scott areas, along Rock Creek Road and further up the North Umpqua River corridor along Highway 138 East.
The lawsuit filed Friday is considered a “mass action” lawsuit, which means each individual plaintiff’s case is its own, as opposed to a class action suit where any damages are distributed evenly among multiple plaintiffs.
Dole Coalwell will be assisted by attorney Mikal Watts of Watts-Guerra, based in San Antonio, and Robert Julian of San Francisco-based firm Baker-Hostetler.
Pacific Power was not immediately available for comment.
A story published Friday on OregonLive reported that a second lawsuit was filed against Pacific Power and its parent company, Portland-based PacifiCorp, related to damages sustained in the Labor Day wildfires in the Santiam Canyon east of Salem.
The story said the company said it does not comment on pending litigation.
“We continue to work alongside federal and state investigators and our own third-party investigators to fully understand the impact of one of the biggest and far-reaching windstorms we’ve seen in our 110-year history,” said company spokesman Drew Hanson.
The Oregonian contributed to this story.