A federal jury in Los Angeles today ordered two construction companies to pay nearly $36.5 million to reimburse the government for costs connected to a 2002 wildfire that scorched the Angeles National Forest.
The bulk of the money $28.8 million is to compensate the federal government for environmental damage.
The award is the largest ever in a federal firefighting cost-recovery case and marks the first time that a jury has awarded damages for environmental damage caused by a wildfire, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
“The jury clearly appreciated the value of the Angeles National Forest and understood the severe damage caused by the fire,” acting U.S. Atty. George S. Cardona said in a statement.
The weeklong trial stemmed from a lawsuit filed last year by the U.S. attorney’s office against two Texas-based firms CB&I Constructors and the now-defunct Merco Construction Engineers.
The 23,400-acre Copper fire near Saugus was started by sparks from a welder’s torch. Nine homes were lost in the blaze.
Merco was a general contractor working on a Newhall Water District project at the time of the blaze. Its subcontractor was CB&I.
The government alleged that both firms were negligent for allegedly allowing the sparks to spread and for failing to wet the area to prevent a fire from breaking out.