Cal Fire Sues Property Owner To Recoup $25 Million in Costs

Cal Fire is suing a property owner and two caretakers in hopes of recouping over $25 million in costs associated with fighting the Mountain Fire back in July, 2013. The fire burned over 27,000 acres, destroyed 23 structures, and required 260 engines, 20 helicopters, 12 fix wing aircraft, and 3500 firefighters before being brought under control.

The suit was filed on July 13, 2015 by California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, on behalf of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire) naming property owner Tarek M. Al-Shawaf, and caretakers James Nowlin and Donna Nowlin as defendants.

The fire began on Al-Shawaf’s property and was electrical in origin. According to the complaint:

  • “The Mountain fire began due to an electrical arc between electrically charged wires in an above-ground junction box on the Shawaf Property that caused hot material to escape the junction box and ignite the surrounding vegetation.”
  • The equipment was “not installed, maintained, inspected and/or repaired in compliance with the California Fire Code.”
  • Defendants failed “to inspect or monitor the Shawaf Property diligently, failing to repair the non-compliant and/or visibly damaged above-ground electrical junction box, and allowing electricity to be conducted through the Property’s electrical systems without proper precautions or notifications to foreseeable users of the Property.”

The complaint alleges liability under the Health and Safety Code sections 13009 and 13009.1 for cost recovery, as well as negligence. Cal Fire claims the defendants violated California Fire Code section 605.1 and 605.6.

Al-Shawaf is facing at least three other suits from property owners who suffered damage during the fire.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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