Los Angeles – The federal government has sued on Thursday a California homeowner for negligence related to the 2013 wildfire, and demanded $25 million in damages. The incident in the mountains forced about 5,000 people from their homes and burned the area for over two weeks.
The source of the fire was originated on a property known as Gibraltar West that is owned by Tarek M. Al-Shawaf, the lead defendant in the lawsuit. The legal document also mentioned James D. Nowlin and Donna L. Nowlin, who were the caretakers employed by Al-Shawaf, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The lawsuit mentioned a poorly maintained electrical junction box, which sparked a blaze in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs. The wildfire took over 28,000 acres and even threatened a nearby town named Idyllwild.
Investigators handling the case determined that the plastic box containing the electrical wires was warped and ajar. As a result, an electrical discharge inside the box shot sparks and hot material out of it and onto the dry ground vegetation below, the lawsuit stated.
“Property owners and their agents have a responsibility to ensure that property under their control is maintained in a safe fashion,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker in a press release commenting the legal implications.
The defendants had a duty to “properly inspect and maintain their electrical equipment, electrical wires, and electrical junction boxes.” Those measures were to ensure that they were safe, adequately secure and clear from any dangerous condition, the lawsuit added.
According to Decker, the fire resulted in the threat of “countless lives”, the people surrounding the area and the thousands of firefighters who battled to contain and diminish the growing fire in the area.
Handling the damages
The complaint also stated that the U.S. Forest Service spent more than $15 million to fight the fire and avoid security implications. The damages in natural resources were accounted to be more than $9 million, in addition to more $300,000 that had to be spent to perform an emergency rehabilitation.
“The damages to the United States include, but are not limited to: mitigation, rehabilitation, and reforestation of burned areas; loss of and damage to timber, habitat, wildlife, watershed, earth, scenery, and environment; aesthetic values; loss of use and recreation; soil damage; and erosion,” the lawsuit stated.
The latest legal actions come after the competent authorities demand the homeowner to pay for the costs associated with the fire, and due to this have been reluctant to pay the amount required by the government. The homeowner could be ordered to pay intangible environmental damages for harm caused by location, as well as interest and penalties associated with it.
Homeowner Sued $25 million Over California Wildfire https://t.co/Fm37k8FohJ
— CBS Sacramento CBS13 (@CBSSacramento) July 15, 2016
Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office