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Sierra Pacific Industries to Pay $122.5 M Settlement in Environmental Lawsuit


Sacramento, CA: A $122.5 million settlement has been reached in an environmental lawsuit brought against Sierra Pacific Industries by the United States Department of Justice. The lawsuit was filed over a 2007 wildfire that was among the most devastating in California history, according to the Department of Justice.

The fire, known as the Moonlight Fire, effectively destroyed 65,000 acres, 46,000 acres of which were national forests. Further, the fire killed more than 15 million trees on public land, some of which were more than 400 years old. It also destroyed thousands of acres inhabited by sensitive species including the California spotted owl, the Sacramento Bee reports. "The Moonlight Fire was a devastating blow to National Forest land here in California," U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin B. Wagner said in a statement."What was lost was priceless and will not return for over a century."

The fire was caused by Sierra Pacific employees and a contractor who struck a rock with a bulldozer, according to government prosecutors. This sent sparks into the dry ground on a day the National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning, indicating a high fire danger. The smoldering fire went unnoticed because the employees skipped a company-required fire patrol, prosecutors said.

"Instead, the designated fire watch left the work area and drove 30 minutes away to get a soda. When he returned over an hour later, there was a 100-foot wall of smoke billowing from the work area," the Department of Justice said in a statement.

The settlement is the largest ever received by the United States for damages caused by a wildfire. It includes a $55 million cash payment and 22,500 acres of land in California owned by Sierra Pacific. The U.S. Forest Service will choose the land, which prosecutors said is expected to bridge gaps between existing national forests and will support critical watersheds and sensitive species habitats.

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Published on Jul-24-12


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