Lawsuits filed in aftermath of Mill Fire
September 9, 2022 | 12:52 pm CDT

At least two lawsuits have reportedly been filed in the aftermath of the Sept. 2 Mill Fire in Weed, California.

The fire caused two fatalities and the destruction of 4,000 acres of forest, 144 homes, and other structures, including those in a historic community of African-Americans who settled in the area during the Great Migration of black men and women from the south.

One lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Siskiyou County man against Roseburg Forest Products over the start of the Mill Fire.

TV station KRCR reported that attorneys with Reiner, Slaughter, Mainzer and Frankel filed suit on behalf of Tim Smith, who lost his home in Weed in the Mill Fire.  The lawsuit seeks damages stemming from the destruction of Smith’s home and personal property, all of which were destroyed. The lawsuit also seeks damages for personal injury resulting from Smith being forced to flee the fire.

In addition, the Mercury News reported on a family who lost their home this month in the fire. The lawsuit, the paper reported, was filed in Sacramento County Superior Court by Nichole and Shayne Hammond, which also names their three children as plaintiffs. The suit charges Roseburg acted with “negligence and conscious disregard” for the safety of the community by failing to ensure safe operations at its mill and prioritizing profits.

Roseburg Forest Products Co., the operators of the veneer mill at the center of the Mill Fire, is investigating whether the possible failure of a water-spraying machine from a third-party equipment manufacturer led to the ignition of the Sept. 2 structural fire.

Roseburg's mill produces its own electric power in a co-generation facility fueled by wood remnants. The generator ejects ash after consuming the wood; that ash is sprayed with cooling water, using a third-party-supplied machine. Roseburg is investigating whether the third-party machine failed to cool the ash sufficiently which thereby ignited the fire. 

"The process for handling the ash and removing it safely depends on the proper functioning of the third-party machinery, so it's logical to investigate the potential failure of that machinery as the proximate cause of the fire," said Pete Hillan, spokesman for Roseburg Forest Products Co. "Roseburg is working closely with state and local investigators to determine if this is the case."

Although the origin of the fire is still to be determined, Roseburg plans to proactively provide up to $50 million for a community restoration fund for the initial recovery needs of impacted residents. The fund will assist residents with temporary shelter, medical supplies and treatment, transportation, clothing, food and water, and childcare/day care services. 

"We know the fire has been devastating to Weed, and we are especially saddened by the loss of life," Hillan said. "It has had a severe impact on our cherished neighbors, and on us, with three of our team members among those who lost their homes."

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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).