Protect Yourself During This Difficult Fire Season

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The early predictions were right: 2015 has been and continues to be a particularly menacing fire season. Record-setting high temperatures, dry conditions, and low snowpack in the mountains have created ideal conditions for both natural and man-made fires. Although a statewide burn ban is in effect for the state of Washington, too many fires are caused carelessly and unnecessarily. Even the act of walking along the road and tossing a lit cigarette could have dire, even fatal, consequences for nearby property and homeowners.

Here are 5 key things local families can do to protect themselves and their property:

  1. Keep shrubs and trees trimmed around property.
  2. Remove dead bushes, trees, leaves or debris around your yard, especially in gutters and near the roof.
  3. Create space between trees and shrubs and be sure they are not touching other items that could catch fire.
  4. Keep grass mowed to no more than 4 inches.
  5. Use fire-resistant materials wherever possible.

  6. Due to increased fire danger in Central Washington, Abeyta Nelson has begun working with families in our region who have lost homes, landscaping, property, vehicles and wages due to non-naturally occurring fires.

On August 29, 2011, a wildfire called the Wishram Fire in Klickitat County burned 11,000 acres of rangeland, some of which was owned by ranchers who used it for grazing cattle. An investigation by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources determined that the cause of the fire was a downed power line owned by the Klickitat County Public Utility District.

A small group of some of the ranchers who owned rangeland burned by the fire contacted Klickitat County PUD. The ranchers asked that they be given some financial assistance to repair and replace some of the fire-damaged fences and help restore some of the grasslands. The ranchers were surprised when they were told by Klickitat County PUD and its insurer that the fire was not its fault and that there would be no financial assistance.

This small group of ranchers contacted Abeyta Nelson for legal advice. Attorneys Rod Nelson and Greg Lighty talked with the ranchers and obtained a copy of the DNR Fire Investigation Report. Rod and Greg also consulted with an expert on power line maintenance. They concluded that a clamp on the power line had failed, allowing it to fall to the ground and cause the fire. They felt that a strong case could be made that Klickitat County PUD was responsible for the fire.

Initially, Klickitat County PUD’s insurer refused to discuss any settlement of the rancher’s claims with Abeyta Nelson. A lawsuit was started. Rod and Greg got reports from an expert witness showing the cost to repair the damaged fencing. They also got reports from a grassland expert estimating the cost of restoration of the damaged grasslands.

Eventually, Klickitat County PUD agreed to mediate the rancher’s claims. Although it was a difficult process, Abeyta Nelson recovered $219,330.00 from Klickitat County PUD’s insurance company to pay for damaged fencing and restoration of the grasslands. Attorneys Rod Nelson and Greg Lighty frequently work as a team in handling fire loss claims for Abeyta Nelson.

Abeyta Nelson is also currently representing 72 property owners damaged by the Taylor Bridge wildfire in the Cle Elum-Ellensburg area in August 2012 and also represented 78 property owners damaged in the Goldendale area with timber and buildings damaged by the Monastery Fire in September 2011. If you have suffered losses due to non-naturally occurring fires, call Abeyta Nelson. We may be able to help you recover your damages.