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SPI and partners in court to determine how much state owes over Moonlight Fire

The Moonlight Fire of 2007 is long out, but a hearing in Plumas County’s Superior Court was aglow with attorneys attempting to determine reasonableness when it comes to the state settling with Sierra Pacific Industries and partners.

Judge Michele Vederosa of Lassen County previously asked attorneys on both sides to present their definitions of reasonableness. As expected, SPI and partners had one idea, CalFire’s legal representative had another.

After hearing approximately an hour of back and forth arguments from attorneys on both sides, Vederosa called for a 15-minute break. Neither side was close to an agreement in determining her request for reasonableness in settling the question of compensation.

Background

The Moonlight Fire burned an estimated 65,000 acres in Plumas County. Twenty thousand of those acres were not on U.S. Forest Service land.

According to reports, the USFS and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) worked together to determine the cause of the fire that occurred during that Labor Day weekend. It was determined that it was started by a dozer/tractor scraping against rocks causing sparks. A timber company hired the bulldozer to fall frees on privately owned property. That wasn’t announced until nearly two years later, in June 2009.

Two months later, according to an official report, both state and federal agencies filed lawsuits against SPI and the landowners involved in the harvest operation. More than $1 billion in damages, costs and fees were sought.

In July 2012, defendants settled with the USFS for $55 million and SPI’s agreement to convey 22,500 acres of land to the USFS.

The fight with the state of California continued.

According to an overview, in July 2013, Judge Leslie C. Nichols dismissed the state lawsuits in a pre-trial hearing. Nichols determined that CalFire couldn’t state a claim against SPI and landowners. In turn, defendants filed a motion seeking attorney fees, expenses and sanctions from the state.

The state court imposed monetary sanctions against CalFire and awarded SPI and others more than $32 million in fees. CalFire appealed that decision.

In December 2017, the Third District Court of Appeal published a decision in favor of SPI and partners and against CalFire. “The court reversed only on the narrow issue of the total amount of monetary sanctions and costs to be awarded in favor of the defendants,” according to an overview.

CalFire then took it to the California Supreme Court in March 2018. It too denied CalFire’s appeal.

Everything was settled during those suits and appeals except for the amount of money CalFire has to pay SPI and partners.

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