Washington Appeals Court Rules Against Carlton Complex Fire Survivors In Suit Against State

About 20 homes burned in this Pateros neighborhood, which included the mayor at the time, Libby Harrison, and her mom’s home behind her. The community church behind it survived, but the pastor’s home next door burned. CREDIT: Scott A. Leadingham
About 20 homes burned in this Pateros neighborhood during the 2014 Carlton Complex fire, which included the mayor at the time, Libby Harrison, and her mom’s home behind her. The community church behind it survived, but the pastor’s home next door burned. CREDIT: Scott A. Leadingham

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The Washington Court of Appeals on Tuesday dismissed a case against the state brought by more than 300 survivors of the 2014 Carlton Complex wildfire in north-central Washington.

The plaintiffs say the Department of Natural Resources didn’t do its part to prevent wildfire from spreading off its land. A panel of judges found the state isn’t liable for the spread of the fire.

The Carlton Complex burned more than 250,000 acres and destroyed more than 300 buildings. At the time, it was the largest wildfire in Washington’s modern history.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say they are “surprised and disappointed” by the decision. They hope to take the case to the state supreme court.

“Given the strength of the law and the facts on the side of the property owners, we were very surprised and disappointed with the Court’s ruling,” attorney Darrell Cochran wrote in an email.

The plaintiffs argued that the state has a duty to do it’s best to prevent fire from spreading to someone else’s property – the same as any landowner.

In its decision, the three-judge panel wrote the state has a responsibility as a landowner to take “undue care” to prevent wildfire from spreading across its boundaries, “But no evidence of landowner liability was presented by the Plaintiffs.”

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Libby Harrison, who at the time was the mayor of Pateros, and her husband are rebuilding their home, which burned in the 2014 Carlton Complex. They’re doing most of the work themselves and hope to move back in, in a few months. CREDIT: Courtney Flatt/NWPB

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