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Landowners sue BNSF over Marshall fire

Wed., Jan. 14, 2009

Claiming negligence, plaintiffs seek millions

Property owners who live or own land near Marshall, southwest of Spokane, have filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. for causing a 365-acre wildfire in summer 2007.

The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, cites a state Department of Natural Resources investigation that concluded a carbon buildup in the stack of a BNSF locomotive spewed hot cinders, which started a series of fires along the railroad right of way.

BNSF was negligent, the suit contends, noting that 36 similar fires caused by the railroad’s locomotives broke out along the same right of way since 1970. Several of the fires that were sparked Aug. 11, 2007, merged, becoming what was called the Marshall Complex fire and forcing the evacuation of homes between Marshall and Cheney.

“These fires transformed a beautiful, pristine, green, living environment into an ugly, blackened and scarred landscape of standing, but decimated trees,” the suit alleges.

The fires destroyed a home, fences and other personal property. Smoke, soot and flames also damaged soils and wildlife habitat, the suit says. Among other effects, the fires caused erosion, clouds of dust stirred up by wind, the loss of natural wind breaks, noxious weed growth and hotter temperatures due to the lack of shade, the suit claims.

The lawsuit accuses the railroad of violating state law by creating an “actionable nuisance” and causing an “actionable trespass” on the plaintiffs’ private property.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas, of Seattle, had no comment on the filing of the suit.

The suit, filed by Spokane attorneys Richard Eymann and Steven Jones, seeks unspecified damages for monetary losses, mental anguish and emotional distress, along with “substantial expenses” incurred by the plaintiffs.

Damages from the loss of trees and land restoration alone are estimated at $10.7 million by a certified arborist, the suit says.

The plaintiffs bringing the suit are: Jason and Laura Jongeward; Gordon and Jeannie Jongeward; Richard and Patricia Linn; Eric and Lisa Koohns; Charles Potter; Joann Potter; Scott and Michelle Simmons; Rick and Chris Hosmer; Jack Gillingham; Keith and Marianne Geschke, and Randy and Colleen Geschke.

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