Union Pacific Railroad pays United States $17.3 million

Feather Publishing

Railroad Company Settles Claims Arising from Forest Fire in the Plumas National Forest

United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced Monday that Union Pacific Railroad Company has paid $17,364,719.61 in damages caused by the "Rich Fire" of 2008.

The fire ignited on July 29, 2008, in the Feather River Canyon of the Plumas National Forest, between Oroville and Quincy. The fire spread rapidly, and area homes were evacuated.

The fire burned 6500 acres in the Feather River Canyon and surrounding land, and cost over $10 million to suppress. An extensive Forest Service investigation revealed that Union Pacific workers negligently started the fire by cutting and welding rail without using tent shields.

In May 2010, the Forest Service billed Union Pacific $17,364,719.61 for fire suppression costs, destroyed timber, reforestation costs, and other environmental and resource damages. Union Pacific agreed to pay the bill in full in exchange for a release from damages claims.

This is the second major settlement in recent years between the United States and Union Pacific for fires on National Forest land. In 2004, the Forest Service billed Union Pacific $63.9 million for damages caused by the Storrie Fire, which burned 52 thousand acres on the Plumas and Lassen National Forests in August 2000. Union Pacific refused to pay that bill, and the United States filed suit. After two years of litigation, Union Pacific settled that case for $102 million.

Settlement funds representing resource losses from fire are dedicated by federal statute to support restoration projects on the damaged National Forests. A substantial portion of the Rich Fire settlement funds will go to the Forest Service to help remedy damages caused by the fire.

"The Rich Fire settlement reflects the significant value we place on our treasured public forests," said United States Attorney Wagner. "Union Pacific's agreement to pay for the damages caused by this fire, without litigation, benefits both the railroad and the public. Restoration projects funded by the settlement will have a direct environmental benefit in our district, by helping to heal the beautiful Feather River Canyon. Fire investigations and recoveries will remain a high priority for our office."

"A significant portion of this money will be used by the Forest Service to help restore the fire-damaged area," said Regional Forester Randy Moore. "We are pleased by the quick settlement."


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