Insurers Sue Landowners in Oregon Fire

November 14, 2012

Insurance companies that paid $1.7 million to six homeowners in a fire blamed on a homeless Ashland, Ore., man have sued the owners of a vacant property where the fire started.

The suit alleges the owners had been told vagrants were camping in the overgrown field behind an Arco gasoline station, starting fires and smoking cigarettes, The Ashland Daily Tidings reported.

In all, 11 homes were destroyed in the fire that swept through the Oak Knoll neighborhood on a hot, windy day in late August 2010. It has been called the worst fire in a century in the southern Oregon city.

A judge found that the man accused of reckless endangerment and reckless burning, John Thiry, 42, likely set the fire, but prosecutors failed to prove he knew the consequences of his actions.

Later, Thiry was convicted of throwing rocks at two middle school girls and sentenced to eight months in jail. A prosecutor said he probably suffered from alcoholism and mental illness, but authorities couldn’t order treatment because the charges were misdemeanors. After serving two weeks, he was released because the jail was overcrowded. He remains homeless in Ashland.

The suit filed by four insurance companies says the field where the Oak Knoll fire started was in violation of state and city codes, and the owners allowed a “dangerous accumulation of waste and overgrown brush to occur on the subject property that created an extreme fire hazard.”

It asks compensation for the insurance payouts.

“We denied all of the allegations,” said Jim Wallan, attorney for the owners – three San Francisco Bay Area people and a family trust, according to online records.

The lawsuit also names a real estate company.

“We’re not hired to police properties for vagrants. We don’t maintain properties. The only thing we are employed to do is market a property,” said Jim Rimley of John L. Scott’s Medford office.

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