Mill Fire Lawsuit


The Mill Fire ignited on September 2nd, 2022, and burned 3,939 acres in Siskiyou County. It was a fast-growing fire that destroyed homes in Lake Shastina, Edgewood, and Weed, including much of the historically black community of Lincoln Heights. More than 7,500 people were given evacuation orders, 118 structures were destroyed, and at least 26 more structures were damaged. Two civilians were killed in the fire, and 3 more people were injured.

The fire was declared 100% contained on September 13th, 2022. On June 16th, 2023, CAL Fire announced its determination that the Mill Fire was caused by mill operations at the Roseburg Forest Product property. The lumber mill had announced on September 7th, 2022, that it was investigating whether the failure of a water spraying machine used to cool ash had caused the fire. California was experiencing a massive heat wave and extreme drought, along with strong winds in the county that caused the fire to grow to nearly 4,000 acres in less than 10 hours.

September 2, 2022
Mill Fire ignites north of Weed; California Governor Gavin Newsom declares state of emergency in Siskiyou County(read announcement)
September 7, 2022
Roseburg Forest Products Co. announces it is investigating whether ​​the possible failure of a water-spraying machine used to cool ash led to ignition of the fire; the company also announces a $50 million community restoration fund for the initial recovery needs of impacted residents (read press release)
September 13, 2022
Fire is 100% contained (CAL FIRE Status Report)
September 15, 2022
Reiner, Slaughter, Mainzer & Frankel files lawsuit against Roseburg Forest Products Co. on behalf of Tim Smith, who lost his home in the fire
September 16, 2022
The California Department of Insurance extends moratorium on insurance cancellation or non-renewals to people impacted by the Mill Fire (read press release)
September 30, 2022
Reiner, Slaughter, Mainzer & Frankel files lawsuit against Roseburg on behalf of the son of Lorenza Mondoc Glover, who died while she was trying to escape the fire
October 4, 2022
Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy files lawsuit against Roseburg on behalf of Robert Davies, who lost his home in the fire
November 10, 2022
Roseburg returns to full operations after replacing ash mixer and implementing new safety procedures
November 18, 2022
Parkinson Benson Potter files lawsuit against Roseburg and its safety and operation managers on behalf of eight victims
November 23, 2022
Parkinson Benson Potter files lawsuit against Roseburg on behalf of almost 50 individuals impacted by the fire
December 13, 2022
Roseburg reaches tentative agreement with four law firms who represent more than 700 individuals who were impacted by the Mill Fire (read press release)
June 16, 2023
CAL Fire announces its determination that the Mill Fire was caused by mill operations at the Roseburg Forest Product property

statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. According to the California Judicial Branch, the statute of limitations for the following legal disputes in California are:

Personal injury: Two years from the injury. If the injury was not discovered right away, then it is 1 year from the date the injury was discovered.

Property damage: Three years from the date the damage occurred.

Investigation and Lawsuits

The Mill Fire was first reported around 12:49 pm on September 2nd, north of Weed near Woodridge Court and Woodridge Way on property owned by Roseburg Forest Products, a lumber mill. The fire is believed to have started in or near a building called “Shed 17,” a wooden warehouse used to store hot ash. 

Roseburg Forest Products produces wood products and generates electricity by burning leftover wood, which is used to power the facility. Some electricity is also transferred to Siskiyou County’s electrical grid for public use. The burning wood creates a hot ash byproduct, which is cooled and treated by a water-spraying machine made by a third-party manufacturer, according to Roseburg. 

On September 7th, Roseburg Forest Products released a statement that the company was investigating whether an ash cooling machine in the warehouse had failed and led to the ignition of the fire. Roseburg told CAL Fire officials that it used a concrete bunker inside the wooden warehouse, which was alleged to be about 100 years old, to store hot ash. If not properly mixed and wet down, the matter posed a significant risk of starting on fire.

At the time, Roseburg said the origin of the fire had not been determined, but that the company was proactively setting up a $50 million community restoration fund for the initial recovery needs of impacted residents.

“The fund will assist residents with temporary shelter, medical supplies and treatment, transportation, clothing, food and water, and childcare/daycare services,” Roseburg said in the statement.

Shed 17 may very well have been a ticking time bomb. According to an investigation by the Sacramento Bee published in early October, interviews with five current and former Roseburg employees and two local firefighters revealed that they’d each witnessed small fires ignite in the small warehouse over the years, though they were quickly extinguished. Pete Hillan, spokesman for Roseburg, said the company wasn’t aware of any previous fires in Shed 17 before the Mill Fire. 

Moreover, the investigation revealed a major oversight — CAL Fire, Siskiyou County, nor the city of Weed could produce any evidence that the warehouse had ever been inspected for fire risk or a functioning sprinkler system. 

While Roseburg said it pays the city of Weed $50,000 for fire protection on its property, fire department Chief Steve Duncan said it doesn’t do its inspections and that Roseburg had a private company for that. Hillan said he wasn’t aware of a private company inspecting the property on Roseburg’s behalf.  

This kind of oversight is not uncommon in Northern California, where state law doesn’t require annual inspections of certain industrial facilities, like Shed 17. Fire officials have said staffing shortages make it difficult to keep up with even mandatory inspections. Siskiyou County also doesn’t have a fire department or a fire marshal, who would be in charge of fire safety inspections. Shed 17 and a second building were scheduled to be torn down on September 19th, according to Hillan. Both buildings were destroyed in the fire.

Several lawsuits were filed against Roseburg Forest Products following its statement. The complaints contended that the Mill Fire resulted from negligent maintenance and operation, as well as a deliberate failure to mitigate known fire risks associated with industrial processes. 

In a lawsuit filed by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy on behalf of Robert Davies, it was alleged that “instead of fixing the system, Roseburg depended on employees promptly reacting to extinguish the fires – rather than spending the money necessary to design and maintain an effective fire suppression system.”

The lawsuits further accused Roseburg of reckless operations and various safety violations. Plaintiffs ranged from those seeking compensation for property damage, medical expenses, wrongful death, and other damages. 

On December 13th, 2022, Roseburg announced a tentative settlement agreement with four law firms, who collectively represented over 700 plaintiffs affected by the Mill Fire. These four law firms were Reiner Slaughter Mainzer & Frankel, Parkinson Benson Potter, Singleton Schreiber, and Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. Notably, a fifth law firm did not reach an agreement, prompting Roseburg to schedule further mediation for approximately 300 additional claimants. To finalize the process, each plaintiff would need to individually consent to their respective settlement terms, and the specific settlement amounts for each case would remain confidential. 

The settlement agreement was reached a little more than 3 months after the fire sparked, compared to the often years-on-end fire victims have had to wait for utility companies to compensate them. 

On June 16th, 2023, CAL Fire announced its determination that the Mill Fire was caused by mill operations at the Roseburg Forest Product property. The agency did not mention the ash cooling machine, nor specify where or what had caused the fire. CAL Fire did say it had forwarded its findings to the Siskiyou County District Attorney’s Office.