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Plumb Creek Timber wont pay for 2000 Fires

by Chris Sorensen |

According to an article in the Missoulian, "Plum Creek Timber Co. "respectfully declines" to take any responsibility for two wildfires ignited by loggers on its timberland at Lolo Pass during the summer of 2000 - or for the $11 million the U.S. Forest Service spent fighting those fires after they spread onto national forest land. In letters to the Clearwater National Forest, an attorney for Plum Creek pointed the finger at the independent contractors hired to log two tracts of company-owned forestland."

An investigation eventually blamed a cable running across the rocks, said Doug Gochnour, the Clearwater forest's administrative officer. The cable caused so much friction it threw sparks into the dry fuel. The Bear Camp fire burned 275 acres, 43 of which were on the national forest. Firefighting costs totaled $972,718.

A month later, just as the Bear Camp fire was dying down, loggers working on another piece of Plum Creek land - this atop Lolo Pass - ignited the Crooked fire. It overwhelmed all attempts at suppression until rain showers doused the forest in September.

Again, investigators blamed the fire on the operation and maintenance of the yarding machine, Gochnour said. "The engine was running very inefficiently, and unburned fuel and carbon particles were flying out of the exhaust and into the logging slash."

The Crooked fire burned 4,800 acres, of which 2,673 acres were on the Clearwater National Forest. Firefighting costs totaled $10,634,153.