Railroad pays $3.3 million to settle wildfire suit

Grayling fire
Grayling fire
The 2008 Grayling fire was one of a few that were capable of jumping a 4-lane highway and median. This photo shows the fire as it spread toward Grayling after it jumped across I-75. DNR photo.

In a story that Wildfire Today has been following since February, 2010, a railroad company in Michigan has agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle a suit filed by a landowner over damage caused by a 2008 wildfire.  This comes after the company, Lake State Railway in Michigan, pleaded no contest on January 2, 2011 to criminal charges of operating a locomotive without a spark arrestor and was ordered to pay $294,752 in restitution and a $1,000 fine after their railroad engine started the fire that burned 1,300 acres of forest, several homes, and other buildings near Grayling, Michigan. The same locomotive engine was suspected of starting 11 other fires in Alpena, Michigan on April 5, 2010.

On September 17, 2010 the Grayling Game Club filed a civil suit against the railroad. During the fire in 2008, 500 acres of the club’s property burned, in addition to several cabins. Michigan law allows for the club to recover triple the value of the property destroyed, which was estimated to be over $1 million. The club was represented by Southfield, Michigan attorney Paul F. Doherty. Mr. Doherty told Wildfire Today that Lake State Railway paid $3.3 million to settle the claims of the Game Club and two members who lost cabins in the fire.

Often, railroad companies get away with starting wildfires. Few are investigated, and even fewer result in settlements or prosecution.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.