2 lawsuits blame utility for eastern Washington fire that killed man and burned hundreds of homes

Sep 28, 2023, 5:41 AM | Updated: 6:59 am

climate change...

Firefighters prepare to battle a new fire that started near the Manastash Vista Point along Interstate 82 on July 23, 2023 in Ellensburg, Washington. Dry and windy weather has fueled wildfires in Washington state, including the large Newell Road Fire near Bickleton, which has reached about 50,000 acres in size. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Two lawsuits have been filed against an electric utility for allegedly sparking a fire in eastern Washington that killed a man and burned approximately 240 homes.

A lawsuit filed Monday in Spokane County Superior Court says Inland Power and Light Company’s electrical equipment contacted or caused sparks to surrounding vegetation that started the Gray fire on Aug. 18, KREM-TV reported.

The suit, filed by fire litigation law firm Singleton-Schreiber on behalf of a property owner in Medical Lake, west of Spokane, alleges the utility designed its power lines to be bare, uncovered and carry a high voltage. All of that increases the risk of ignition when coming into contact with grass or equipment, according to the lawsuit.

“Inland Power was very aware as a utility company that Washington is deemed a high wildfire risk area, and they should have used this knowledge to properly protect their clients and the residents of Spokane County,” lawyer Gerald Singleton told KREM-TV. “Because of Inland Power and Light’s negligence, a life was lost, other lives were completely upended, and this community will never be the same.”

The plaintiff is claiming damages of more than $100,000, according to the lawsuit.

The second lawsuit, filed by a Spokane law firm for 44 people affected by the fire, says an outdoor light constructed by Inland Power was seen sparking near the origin of the blaze.

A person cited in the complaint said they saw “sparks or molten/burning material” coming from the outdoor light and nearby electrical equipment that day, according to the lawsuit.

Investigators with the Washington Department of Natural Resources have collected the light fixture for further investigation, it adds.

Inland Power told the news outlet that the cause of the Gray fire is still under investigation.

“We will not make any speculations while an active investigation is still underway,” the utility said.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has said it could take months to determine what caused the Gray fire, which sparked during critical fire weather conditions west of Medical Lake.

About 240 homes and 86 other kinds of structures were destroyed, and more than 17 square miles (44 square kilometers) were burned.

Carl Grub, 86, died Aug. 18 of smoke inhalation and thermal injuries near an intersection in Medical Lake in the area of the fire, according to the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office.



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2 lawsuits blame utility for eastern Washington fire that killed man and burned hundreds of homes