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Suit filed in Valley View fire

Neighbor who allegedly allowed fire pit faces $75,000 claim from owner of land

The owner of the property where the Valley View fire began has filed a lawsuit against the woman who allegedly let a teenager ignite a fire pit that led to the blaze.

Dr. Tracy Berg, a surgeon, lives next door to architect Glen Cloninger’s undeveloped property at 1825 S. Eastern Lane and allowed a 16-year-old boy to start a recreational fire that sparked the wildfire that burned 11 homes July 10, according to fire officials.

The Spokane Valley Fire Department issued a news release last week naming Berg as the fire’s instigator but cleared her of wrongdoing the following day and blamed the teen.

A state Department of Natural Resources criminal investigation is ongoing.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday against Berg and the unnamed father of the boy, accuses Berg of allowing the boy to trespass on Cloninger’s property to start a fire in an old tree stump. It seeks damages of $75,000. The suit also seeks an injunction prohibiting Berg from accessing Cloninger’s property.

The Valley View fire scorched more than 1,000 acres and cost about $3 million to fight. It was the area’s biggest fire disaster since downed power lines sparked blazes in 1991 that burned 112 homes, resulting in a flurry of lawsuits.

Berg’s attorney, Tammy L. Williams, of Seattle, said she and her client met with Cloninger and his lawyer, Joe Delay, Wednesday night in what she described as a “very productive and cooperative meeting.”

When asked if she thought the lawsuit would be dropped, Williams said: “We’re working together right now, and we hope that we can continue to do that.”

The first step is to formally survey the land. Right now, no one’s sure who actually owns the parcel where the blaze began, Williams said.

“Deeds can describe property and maps can show property, but surveys are actually the only thing that gets you down to the actual boundary of the property,” she said.

Berg had been under the impression she owned the land where the tree stump is, Williams said. Fire officials told her the property was Cloninger’s, Williams said, after they determined a recreational fire started in the stump July 7 smoldered for days until high winds whipped it into the massive wildfire.

“It was an innocent thing on Ms. Berg’s part,” Williams said.

Berg and Cloninger agreed to share the cost of the land survey, Williams said.

Cloninger directed comments to Delay, who declined comment.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at meghannc@spokesman.com.


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