Timber Company Sued Over Northern Idaho Wildfire

April 21, 2014

Idaho officials have filed a lawsuit against a timber company and its contractor contending they’re responsible for a wildfire that killed a 20-year-old Forest Service firefighter and burned more than 300 acres in northern Idaho.

The Lewiston Tribune reports the state filed the lawsuit Monday in 2nd District Court seeking an unspecified amount in monetary damages for costs in fighting the fire.

Anne Veseth of Moscow died Aug. 12, 2012, after being struck and killed by a falling tree while fighting the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino.

The lawsuit names Potlatch Land and Lumber, Potlatch Forest Holdings, Clearwater Paper Corp., Potlatch Corp., and DABCO Inc., a Kamiah-based logging contractor.

Matt Van Vleet, Clearwater Paper spokesman, said the company was named in the lawsuit by mistake.

“We don’t own any forest land and never have,” he said.

A Potlatch spokesman declined to comment.

Idaho officials contend the DABCO logging crew started the fire using equipment that didn’t meet Forest Service standards required by law. Specifically, the lawsuit said the crew used a cable yarding system that employed a mechanized carriage with an internal combustion engine.

The lawsuit contends the carriage’s spark arrester didn’t meet required standards, and when a cable under high tension broke, the carriage swung violently and flipped, spilling hot metal and carbon from the muffler into dry logging debris.

Officials with the Idaho Department of Lands said the sparks and hot metal caused the fire that the logging crew failed to suppress despite attempts to build a fire line and use water.

The Idaho Department of lands, as part of a fire protection agreement with the Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Association and the Forest Service, sent fire crews that “incurred costs and expenses to control and extinguish the fire for which the defendants are responsible.”

Veseth was in her second season as a wildfire fighter.

She was part of a crew assigned to reinforce a fire line on one perimeter of the 43-acre Steep Corner Fire when she was struck by the tree and killed.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in February 2013 released a report that said the Forest Service failed to maintain safe working conditions.

A Forest Service report released the same month concluded that Veseth’s death wasn’t the result of human error but was due to the inherent dangers of fighting wildfires where risks can’t be completely eliminated.

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