Lawsuit seeks $103M from public utilities over wildfire

Holiday Farm Fire

The lawsuit is one of multiple that claim utility negligence was responsible for much of the devastation.

Posted: May 15, 2021 11:20 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A lawsuit filed on behalf of 70 landowners in Oregon’s McKenzie River Valley seeks $103 million from Lane Electric Cooperative and Eugene Water and Electric Board for damages linked to one of the Labor Day fires that ravaged communities around the state.

The Holiday Farm fire killed one person and destroyed 430 homes, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. The plaintiffs contend that the two utilities failed to de-energize their power lines despite widespread forecasts for extreme fire weather.

An official cause of the fire hasn’t been released, but the lawsuit says fires started when tree branches contacted power lines east of Eugene.

“The Holiday Farm Fire devastated our clients’ homes, timber, and businesses. It was a life-altering event for our clients,” said Rick Klingbeil of Salem Fire Lawyers.

Joe Harwood, a spokesman for the Eugene Water & Electric Board, said in an emailed statement that the lawsuit “contains claims that are based upon a significant factual error.” As designed, he said, the utility’s lines in the Holiday Farm area de-energized automatically several hours before the blaze ignited on Sept. 7, 2020.

Lane Electric Cooperative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Lane County Circuit Court, is one of multiple that claim utility negligence was responsible for much of the devastation.

PacifiCorp faces similar lawsuits from residents in the Beachie Creek and Santiam Canyon fires, the Echo Mountain Complex near Lincoln City, the Archie Creek fire along the North Umpqua, and the Slater fire on the Oregon/California border.

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