Washington Files Suit to Recoup Wildfire Costs

By SHANNON DININNY | June 10, 2013

Washington state has filed suit against two companies to try to recover firefighting costs from a blaze that destroyed 61 homes and blackened 36 square miles last year.

A state investigation into the cause of the Taylor Bridge Fire in August 2012 concluded it was likely started from welding or cutting work on a bridge project southeast of Cle Elum in the Cascade Range.

The lawsuit names Conway Construction Co. of Ridgefield, the company hired by the state to perform the bridge work, and subcontractor Rainier Steel Inc. of Normandy Park. It seeks $5 million to recoup some of the fire suppression costs, the Washington state Department of Natural Resources said in a statement Friday.

“Negligence put the public in danger of this fast moving wildfire,” Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. “DNR will make every effort to hold all responsible parties to full account for the Taylor Bridge Fire’s cost.”

The lawsuit was signed and sent for filing June 4 in Kittitas County Superior Court, DNR spokesman Matthew Randazzo said.

No one at Conway Construction immediately returned a telephone message seeking comment. A telephone call to Rainier Steel went unanswered.

The Department of Natural Resources said it paid roughly half of the $11.1 million total cost to suppress the wildfire. That cost does not include damages.

In addition to the 61 homes, the fire destroyed hundreds of outbuildings.

The fire started Aug. 13 as a contractor and subcontractor were working on a Transportation Department project on the Highway 10 Bridge. Investigators found the fire started about 30 feet from where one worker was cutting rebar with a power saw on the bridge deck, while a second worker was welding under the bridge.

The investigation report concluded the work was taking place while industrial activity was supposed to be shut down because of the high fire danger in the area.

The report did not issue any fines.

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