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Judge rejects forest fire lawsuit

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POSTED July 30, 2013 9:14 p.m.

QUINCY (AP) — A Plumas County Superior Court judge has dismissed a state lawsuit against California's largest timber company for a 2007 wildfire that destroyed more than 100 square miles of forest in Northern California.

State and federal officials have blamed Sierra Pacific Industries for the Moonlight Fire, which they said was caused by two unsupervised employees who operated bulldozers on a red-flag warning day with high fire danger.

Investigators had blamed company contractors working on private land for failing to follow fire regulations, sparking the blaze that burned for more than two weeks and consumed 72 square miles of public land in Plumas and Lassen national forests northwest of Lake Tahoe.

The case was set to go to trial Tuesday, but Judge Leslie C. Nichols ruled Friday that the state could not prove that Sierra Pacific was negligent in its hiring or supervision of its contractors and employees, which it would have had to do in order to recoup any of the estimated $22.5 million spent fighting the blaze.

The company claimed that state investigators conducted a faulty investigation and could not show the true origin of the fire.

"We knew all along that the evidence did not support the state's claim that our contractor started the fire," Sierra Pacific spokesman Mark Pawlicki said in a written statement.

Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton said the state disagrees with the decision "and we're currently plotting our next course of action, looking at all our options, including appeal."

Sierra settled a similar lawsuit with federal prosecutors last summer, agreeing to pay nearly $50 million and donate 22,500 acres of land, after a federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail in their claims against the timber company.

 

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