Area ranch faces two lawsuits over fire

J-Spear Ranch in Paisley is facing two lawsuits over the Watson Creek Fire which burned 59,061 acres in August 2018.

J-Spear Ranch of Paisley is facing two lawsuits over the Watson Creek Fire which burned timberland in August 2018, ultimately burning 59,061 acres.

Now the federal government and the Green Diamond Resource Company are suing the ranch to recover lost revenue from the trees, costs of putting out the fire, and habitat repair and restoration. Green Diamond is asking for $7.75 million and the government is asking for $14 million. Out of the 59,000 acres burned, 45,000 was on Forest Service land and the rest was on Green Diamond timber land. The case will be heard in the District of Oregon, Medford Division.

In its complaint the federal government stated that J-Spear had the responsibility for vehicle maintenance, plus take all steps to suppress and promptly report fires. The complaint also states that the fire started on the Paradise Creek allotment where J-Spear had permission to run cattle during the summer.

After an investigation the federal government stated that the fire was started by a J-Spear employee who was driving an ATV along a fence, and claims that the ATV was not properly maintained or operated.

“J-Spear did not properly inspect and/or clean the ATV to remove dried vegetation and debris,” the government claims in their complaint.

The complaint further alleges that the ranch did not properly train its employees regarding fire prevention and suppression; and that the fire would not normally have burned if it was not the result of negligent activities. In the complaint the government alleges that J-Spear Ranch did not equipped the ATV with fire suppression equipment around mufflers, exhaust systems and other fire hazards; and that the equipment was not in good operating order.

On Nov. 6, 2019, the Forest Service sent a written demand letter to the owners of J-Spear Ranch asking that they pay the costs of putting out the fire, as of today the ranch has not paid the amount requested.

The government, and Green Diamond, are requesting costs to repair habitat, replacing timber, loss of watershed habitat and scenic and environmental values. Both parties are asking for a jury trial, at this time there has been no comment from the U.S. Attorney’s office or Green Diamond lawyer if the cases will be combined. Ronald Clark, lawyer for J-Spear Ranch, would only confirm that he is representing the ranch and would not answer any further questions.

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