Mill fire update: Survivors receive initial funds; lawsuit grows

WEED, Calif. -- About 80 fire survivors received initial financial assistance on Sept. 13 during the first day of Roseburg Forest Products' $50 million Community Relief Fund being distributed to residents of Weed, Lake Shastina, and nearby communities affected by the Mill Fire.

Independent administrators assisted residents in making claims to cover immediate needs such as temporary housing, transportation, food and clothing, and medical issues. Roseburg began distributing funds from the company's Community Relief Fund less than two weeks after the fire began on Sept. 2.

Residents who receive assistance will not be asked to waive any claims.

"Roseburg is so grateful for the patience and response by a number of impacted families who now have initial funds to support their immediate needs," said Pete Hillan, a spokesperson for the company. "Tuesday was only the start of our efforts to help people recover now instead of waiting years for financial support."

Individuals coming to the Community Center may elect to be represented by an attorney. It is not necessary to have representation, however, to participate in this Fund. In addition, people who accept money from the Fund will be asked only to sign a receipt, so that the Fund has an accurate record of how much it paid. People will not be asked to waive any claim they may have related to the fire as a condition of receiving benefits from the Fund.

Lawsuits growing
According to reports in local news outlets, the number of people joining lawsuits against Roseburg is growing. The News Review reported Sept. 14 that more than 100 people have joined a civil lawsuit against Roseburg, including the families of two people who died during the fire that swept through the communities near the Roseburg veneer mill in Weed.

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.


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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).