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What Caused the Mill Fire?

By October 3, 2022November 3rd, 2022No Comments

On September 2, 2022, a fire ripped through the town of Weed in Siskiyou County. The Mill Fire destroyed at least 106 homes and caused several thousand people to be evacuated from their homes. Two people were killed in the blaze as they attempted to escape in their vehicle, and at least three others were injured. What caused the Mill Fire? The Mill Fire started in an old wooden building before spreading to nearby vegetation and eventually burning nearly 4,000 acres. For more information, reach out to a personal injury lawyer.

The Company That Owned the Mill Stepped Forward

Almost immediately, investigative eyes turned toward Roseburg Forest Products, a manufacturer of veneer products, who owns the mill and the shed where witnesses said they saw the fire begin.

Roseburg issued a statement days into the investigation, acknowledging that their operations may have had a role in the fire but insisted the cause of the fire had yet to be determined. The company’s statement further noted that they were conducting their own investigation into whether a malfunctioning sprinkler system provided by a third party that was supposed to suppress smoldering ash caused that ash to ignite.

The company reportedly has a wood-fired cogeneration power plant that produces electricity that the company sells to a consortium of municipal utilities, including those from Sacramento and Southern California. Leftover ash from this power plant is stored in a concrete bin in a warehouse known as Shed 17. This 60-foot tall warehouse is where the Mill Fire reportedly began.

After the smoldering ash was transported to a concrete bin in the warehouse, it was routinely sprayed with a “third-party machine,” according to Roseburg’s statement. Roseburg has yet to name the third party who installed or provided the sprinkling system, and Roseburg’s attorney stated that in recent months, the company had verified that the watering equipment that was used to lower the temperature of the ash was working correctly, as was the high-pressured hose that was located inside Shed 17.

The company stated that it planned to provide up to $50 million for the recovery efforts in Weed. The money is intended to provide temporary shelter, medical supplies, clothing, and other items for displaced victims who lost everything they owned in the fire. Roseburg insisted in their statement that the funds were not intended to replace insurance claims and was also not an admission of guilt.

How Will Roseburg’s $50 Million Fund Work?

According to the company’s statement on September 7, Roseburg has assembled a team to head up its response to the Mill Fire. The company anticipates that the investigation into the fire will be complete within weeks. If insurers determine that the fire resulted from a faulty third-party sprinkler or a fault with the property itself, they will request that their insurers begin covering claims through professional claims adjusters. The company noted that residents do not need to hire a lawyer to file a claim but can seek legal counsel if they are unhappy with the amount offered.

What Is Cogeneration?

Cogeneration creates electricity and heat simultaneously. More popular in Europe, it generates efficient, cost-effective, and low-emission power. The components of such a system consist of a prime mover that drives the system, a generator, heat recovery equipment, and an electrical interconnection. Wood is a commonly used fuel for such systems.

Siskiyou County officials approved Roseburg’s 15-megawatt cogeneration plant in 2008.

Current and Former Employees Say This Is Not the First Fire at the Facility

Five current and former employees of Roseburg reported that there had been a small fire started in Shed 17 before. One of the former employees said that a fire had started within their first two weeks on the job, and they witnessed coworkers acting nonchalant about the issue because “it happens all the time.” This former team member also said they had wondered about the safety of “storing this material that can create an exothermic reaction in a wooden building.”

A current team member stated that there were small fires in Shed 17 on occasion, but they were extinguished quickly, and it was never a big deal. The team member noted that the company had stored ash in the building for 17 years, inside a 10-foot tall concrete bunker that did not have a lid.

An attorney for Roseburg said they had no information about previous fires at the plant.

Who Is Liable for Compensating Victims of the Fire?

Liability refers to the legal responsibility that the at-fault party has to compensate those injured due to their negligence. The cause of the Mill Fire remains under investigation. However, based on the company’s admission that the fire was believed to have started at their site and the statements from current and former employees, it would appear that Roseburg knew or had reason to know that fires occurred in Shed 17 in the area where smoldering ash from the company’s wood cogeneration plant was stored.

Because the company knew (or had reason to know) fires were caused in this area, and there is a risk of a small fire escaping containment and spreading as the Mill Fire did—particularly given the high fire danger in California—there could be satisfactory evidence to show that the fire was the result of the company’s negligence.

The owners or possessors of property in California must take reasonable actions to avoid causing physical injuries and property damage to others.

This requires the company to regularly inspect its property in search of hazards and promptly mitigate such hazards.

  • Did Roseburg know that their practices regarding the storage of ash from their wood cogeneration plant could potentially cause fires? According to their employees, multiple fires occurred in the storage warehouse over the 17 years that the building had been used for that purpose.
  • Did the company take reasonable actions to avoid the risk of a fire starting that could spread to a nearby neighborhood? They reportedly had a sprinkling system and a hose to deal with fires. It remains to be seen whether additional actions were taken to avoid causing injuries or property damage to others.

There has already been at least one lawsuit filed against the company by a family who lost their home in the fire.

Beware of a Potential Defendant Saying You Do Not Need a Lawyer

What Caused the Mill Fire?Roseburg’s attorney stated that the company is intent on doing right by the community of Weed, and there is not necessarily any reason to doubt that, except that the company atmosphere in which repeated fires in a facility were treated by employees as “no big deal.”

Regardless of the company’s good intentions, the insurance company that provided their business liability policy now tasked with satisfying claims against that policy is—like all insurance companies—in the business of making money off of premiums, not fairly compensating the claims of individuals who have lost their home, or perhaps have even lost a loved one or suffered an injury.


What an Attorney Can Do to Assist You With Your Claim

Roseburg has an attorney who provides guidance and communicates its position to the public. Their insurance provider also has legal counsel who advises them on whether a claim can legally be denied. A claimant seeking compensation after losing their home or suffering an injury or death in a fire deserves to have the benefit of legal expertise and experience in the claims process that an attorney can provide. Here is a look at some of the services a personal injury or property damage lawyer can offer in this circumstance.

A Determination of Liability

Liability is not always apparent and does not always rest with one party. For example, if it is found that the third-party sprinkling system at Roseburg’s ash storage facility malfunctioned, the manufacturer of that system or the company that installed it could face liability for selling or installing a defective watering system that failed to function as intended. However, the liability of the sprinkler company does not erase the potential of Roseburg’s liability for its storage practices.

One of the services an experienced attorney will provide is an investigation of the circumstances to determine all sources of liability and the associated insurance policies held by each at-fault party that can be used to provide your compensation.

Valuing Your Claim

Most people are unaware of how much it costs to fully recover after losing everything in a house fire. Your attorney will help you establish a value for your claim and ensure that as many of the financial impacts you incurred as possible are included in that claim’s value. Additionally, your attorney can help you attach a value to items that had a special meaning to you over the fair market value that is commonly used to price goods that have been lost and are part of an insurance claim.

Communicating With the Insurer

As mentioned, insurance companies are in the business of making money. One of the ways they protect their bottom line is by hiring claims adjusters to evaluate claims and determine how much the insurance company owes to the claimant. The claims adjuster works for the insurance company, which is required by law to defend its insured, and the claims adjuster’s job is to save the insurance company money. Little in that equation hints at the notion of providing fair compensation to someone who has incurred injury or property damage due to a company’s carelessness or recklessness.

An attorney can serve as a contact point for the claims adjuster to prevent the claim from falling victim to common insurance company tactics that claims adjusters use to reduce the claim’s value. Additionally, the attorney can use this communication to keep the conversation focused on providing fair compensation for their client’s injury or loss.

Filing Your Claim in Court

An insurance claims adjuster has three options when considering claims made against their insured: They can pay the claim outright; they can deny the claim and notify the claimant of the reason for the denial; or they can make an offer to settle the claim out-of-court for less than its established value. Suppose the insurance provider fails to pay the claim. In that case, however, it can be filed as a lawsuit for a judge or jury to hear the case and make decisions regarding liability and compensation.

California’s statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is two years. Those filing lawsuits for property damage only have three years to file the claim in court. These are critical deadlines to remember, as letting the statute of limitations expire on your claim will usually result in losing your right to seek compensation through the court process.

Litigation is an expensive and uncertain consequence for insurers who fail to fairly compensate legitimate claims either through an outright payment of the claim or a negotiated settlement. Suppose you no longer have the ability to file a lawsuit. In that case, you will likely not find the insurance company interested in entertaining settlement discussions either because they no longer have a consequence if they do not.


Far fewer personal injury and property damage claims go to court than what television and movies would have you believe. Instead, many of these claims are resolved by a settlement. It appears that Roseburg intends to settle the claims made by residents of Weed. However, as mentioned, if the insurance company fails to pay your claim, you still may file a lawsuit and hire an experienced attorney to handle the process for you. For more information, reach out to a personal injury lawyer.

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