Claremont, Calif.’s $17.5 Million Deal with Homeowners in Wildfire Suit

Palmer Canyon, Calif., residents who blamed the city for homes burned in the 2003 Grand Prix wildfire have settled their lawsuit for $17.5 million, city officials announced.

Homeowners claimed the city failed to properly clear brush on its nearby land, providing fuel for the blaze that destroyed their homes. Forty-three homes in Palmer Canyon were destroyed and others were damaged.

Some 62 plaintiffs in the suit will share the $17.5 million and the money will be used to rebuild the homes, homeowners’ attorney Mark Grotefeld said.

“My clients are very happy that the lawsuit is now concluded, and they can move forward with hopefully rebuilding their homes,” Grotefeld said.

Claremont is a member of the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and will only pay a $30,000 deductible toward the settlement. The rest of the settlement cost will be shared by the insurance authority’s 106 member agencies, which include cities and other local governments in the state, said Jonathan Shull, executive director of the La Palma-based organization.

“None of us are happy with the large payout,” Mayor Peter Yao said. “The JPIA felt that settling it was the best course of action, so we went along with their recommendation.

“As to whether we’re responsible or not, none of us feel we were completely responsible. (But) based on the fact that we’re paying something, that implies that we do have a certain amount of responsibility,” he said.

The Grand Prix wildfire started on Oct. 21, 2003.