Electric co-op in Washington reaches settlement to pay $1.1 million for suppression of fire that killed three firefighters

Earlier, power companies agreed to pay the seriously injured lone survivor $5 million

Twisp River Fire map
Photo from the report on the Twisp River Fire.

The Okanogan County Electric Co-op has agreed to a $1.1 million settlement for the suppression costs of the deadly 2015 Twisp River Fire.

U.S. Attorney William D. Hyslop announced that the settlement had been reached with Okanogan County Electric Cooperative, Inc. (“OCEC”) and its insurer, requiring the payment of $1.1 million to the United States in fire suppression costs resulting from the Twisp River Fire that began on August 19, 2015 in north-central Washington.

The $1.1 million recovers a large portion of the U.S. Forest Service’s costs incurred in suppressing the fire. It was part of a larger settlement of claims that were brought separately by other plaintiffs, including U.S. Forest Service firefighter Daniel Lyon and the State of Washington, who sought to recover damages for personal injury and property damage caused by the fire.

The Twisp River Fire ultimately burned approximately 11,200 acres, claimed the lives of three USFS firefighters, and severely injured Mr. Lyon. He suffered third degree burns over nearly 70 percent of his body, but three other firefighters in the same engine died in the vehicle, according to the corner’s report, from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries. They were Richard Wheeler, 31; Andrew Zajac, 26; and Tom Zbyszewski, 20. All four were employees of the USFS working on the Okanogan/Wenatchee National Forest out of Twisp, Washington.

The US Attorney claimed the Twisp River Fire ignited due to contact between a tree branch and OCEC’s electrical distribution line. He further claimed OCEC failed to properly maintain a vegetation management plan designed to detect and prevent the tree branch from contacting the distribution line. OCEC denied these allegations.

In January Mr. Lyon reached a settlement with two utility companies, OCEC and Douglas County PUD, just before an appeal of his $100 million civil suit was to be heard before the state Supreme Court. In that settlement the companies agreed to pay $5 million.

From the Wenatchee World, when the $5 million settlement was announced in January:

“I am very grateful that my case calls attention to the plight of injured first responders,” said Lyon, who was burned over most of his body and has undergone more than a dozen surgeries and 100 medical procedures. “I am also grateful my case has reached a settlement so that I can now move on with my life knowing I will have the resources I need for the future.”

Last July, his attorneys, in an appeals brief, argued the Professional Rescue Doctrine that largely bars such claims violates the state constitution, which gives people equal protection under the law and offers the right to seek compensation for damages.

Lyon’s attorneys note that courts in some other states, where the doctrine once held sway, have opted to throw it out.

An attorney for one of the two defendants, in an earlier interview, says the wounds Lyon suffered — however grievous — resulted from risks inherent to the dangerous job of firefighting.

“The law does not allow them (professional first responders) to sue — and there are good policy reasons behind that,” said A. Grant Lingg, who represents the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative. “You don’t want the people who start a fire to be afraid to call the fire department for fear that that an injured first responder will sue them.”

The video below is about the January settlement.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

PG&E to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter for fatalities in Camp Fire

84 people were killed in the northern California fire in 2018

The Camp Fire, November 8, 2018
The Camp Fire, November 8, 2018 about four hours after it started. NASA (Joshua Stevens) – Landsat 8.

In a rather startling development, Pacific Gas & Electricity is expected to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter for the 84 people that were killed during the Camp Fire that burned through Paradise, California November 8, 2018. The fire also burned 154,000 acres and destroyed more than 18,000 structures.

Below is an excerpt from an article at NBC news:

PG&E has agreed to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of unlawfully causing a fire after it was blamed for the Camp Fire in Northern California, the state’s deadliest in history.

The fire, which burned through the Sierra Nevada foothills for half a month in late 2018, burning through three towns, was sparked by Pacific Gas and Electric Company equipment, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which identified ignition points in Butte County.

The settlement, which the utility reached with the Butte County District Attorney’s Office on March 17, was filed in the Superior Court of California in the county and made public Monday morning by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

It must still be approved by the Butte County Superior Court, as well as the federal bankruptcy court overseeing PG&E’s case. In January of 2019, PG&E filed for chapter 11 protection to, in part, set up a “Fire Victim Trust.”

A PG&E spokesman told NBC News that the utility has reached settlements with victims from 2015, 2017 and 2018 wildfires, totaling about $25.5 billion.

Last May the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection released results of their investigation which determined that two points of ignition were found that were caused by failures of PG&E electrical transmission lines. One of the towers was 99 years old.

The company is expected to plead guilty in court on April 24, a date that was moved back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom and Erik. Typos or errors, report them HERE.