Off Beat: Safety is job one?
You can't make this stuff up.
It's a rare lawsuit that reads like the script for "CSI," but one of them — a lawsuit, not a TV script — was filed recently in Yuba County Superior Court. It sort of got lost in the shuffle.
The suit was filed by the state Attorney General's Office on behalf of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Essentially, the state wants to recoup the costs of fighting the August 2010 Bullards Fire.
At the time, authorities said the cause of the fire, which consumed about 1,300 acres, was kind of mysterious, but probably was man-made.
And that was it, or so it seemed.
But the state continued to investigate because it spent $3.6 million to fight the fire.
So, two months ago, the state filed a lawsuit against Midwest Demolition Co. of Nebraska in Yuba County Superior Court.
How does a company in Nebraska get involved in a Yuba County fire?
Midwest, according to the lawsuit, was hired by the US Geological Survey to remove some water gauges along the Yuba River.
So on Aug. 27, 2010, a Midwest work crew was up on the river, working on gauge removal. And they were using a gasoline-powered cutoff machine, also known as a "hot saw."
The suit alleged that the crew touched off a number of small fires with the hot saw because they failed to clear away all flammable material within a 10-foot radius of the saw. All were extinguished. At about 3:30 p.m., the hot saw touched off another blaze, and this one went out of control.
The head of the work crew then launched a pencil flare "in an attempt to disguise the fire caused by sparks from the hot saw as accidental," the suit said. The pencil flare landed in dry brush, creating a fire that merged with the first blaze.
But there's more: the chief of the work crew then told his men, when investigators showed up, to blame the fire on a fictitious gold miner or camper. He eventually admitted the ruse, the lawsuit said.
Earlier this year, the state sent Midwest a bill for $3.6 million. There was no response, the suit said.
Last month, Midwest had the suit removed to federal court in Sacramento. Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the case returned to Yuba County Superior Court.
On its website, Midwest proclaims: "Safety is more than a slogan, it's a companywide commitment."