Union Pacific settles with feds over forest fire costs

Union Pacific settles with feds over forest fire costs

17 August 2010

published by www.sacbee.com

USA — Union Pacific Railroad Co. has paid more than $17.3 million to settle the federal government’s claim of damages and suppression costs resulting from a 2008 fire that burned 6,500 acres in the Plumas National Forest between Oroville and Quincy.

A U.S. Forest Service investigation established that railroad workers started the Rich fire in the Feather River Canyon by cutting and welding rail without using tent shields, according to U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner.

The fire spread rapidly and area residents were evacuated, but there were no injuries. Fire officials reported two cabins and two outbuildings were destroyed.

The blaze forced closure for a few days of Highway 70, the UP rail line through the canyon and part of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Wagner lauded the railroad for its willingness to pay the bill of $17,364,719.61 without the need for litigation.

“Restoration projects funded by the settlement will have a direct environmental benefit in our district by helping to heal the beautiful Feather River Canyon,” Wagner said. “Fire investigations and recoveries will remain a high priority for our office.”

“Safety is our primary focus at Union Pacific,” spokesman Aaron Hunt said in an e-mail. “We have an aggressive fire prevention program in place and will continue to focus on operating a safe and efficient railroad.”

This is the second major settlement in recent years between the United States and Union Pacific in connection with the origin of a forest fire.

In the largest settlement ever over damages and costs of a wildfire, Union Pacific paid the feds $102 million in 2006 to retire a claim arising out of the 2000 Storrie fire.

In 2004, the Forest Service billed the railroad $63.9 million for that fire, which burned 52,000 acres in the Plumas and Lassen national forests. Union Pacific refused to pay, and the government sued. Two years of litigation ended in the settlement.

The Storrie fire was also accidentally started in the Feather River Canyon by a section crew repairing track.

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