According to local news reports that were later confirmed by the San Bernardino Field Office of the US Forest Service, a firefighter who “went missing” on Thursday (September 17th ) while fighting the El Dorado wildfire in California has been found dead. The firefighter’s name is being withheld pending identification and notification of next-of kin and an investigation into the circumstances and cause of death is underway. At The Doan Law Firm, we extend our sincerest condolences to the family and co-workers of this fallen hero.
As we reported in an earlier post, the El Dorado fire began almost two weeks ago when fireworks at a ‘gender reveal” party caused sparks that initiated a fire in nearby dry grass. The incident occurred while the area was under a “Red Flag Warning,” meaning that local dry vegetation and weather conditions posed a high risk of an uncontrollable wildfire. Local officials have confirmed that the fire was set off by a ‘malfunctioning pyrotechnic (fireworks) device.”
Although we are admittedly dealing with mostly incomplete or unconfirmed information regarding the origins of the El Dorado fire, we feel that several acts of negligence are strongly suggested.
1. The fireworks were used even though there was an almost statewide “Red Flag Warning” in effect for the State of California and the San Bernardino National Forest.
According to the National Weather Service a Red Flag Warning means means “… warm temperatures, very low humidities, and stronger winds are expected to combine to produce an increased risk of fire danger.” This forces us to ask why were fireworks in use when such a warning was in effect?
2. There appears to have been either insufficient or no fire control resources available to contain a small fire that could have been reasonably expected to occur even under “normal conditions.”
It is almost inconceivable that fireworks would have been displayed apparently without measures “on hand” to control small fires that could result from the use of fireworks.
Given the above concerns, this causes us to ask who could be held liable for this tragic, deadly, and potentially avoidable wildfire?
As we noted in an October 2019 post, California civil law holds that the party directly responsible for an act of negligence that causes an injury to another is liable for the consequences of such injury. These consequences can include injury to persons, loss of property, repairs to private, loss of income from property and dozens of other kinds of losses. Based on the admittedly scant information available, it seems possible that the company providing the fireworks display could be held liable for starting the El Dorado fire.
If, however, an individual other than a professional fireworks company “set off ”the fireworks thought to be the cause of the fire, then that individual could possibly be found liable by a court.
Finally, California law concerning possible municipality and county contribution to the fire (e.g. failure to adequately enforce fire regulations or inappropriate resources available to combat a fire) is unclear. However, if a claim is filed naming San Bernardino County as a defendant, California law requires a complex set of paperwork to be filed prior to a lawsuit can be considered. Given that any failure to follow California’s convoluted civil filing procedures could result in a damage claim being disallowed in the future, at The Doan Law Firm we recommend that a potential claimant contact a personal injury lawyer who is familiar with California civil law administrative procedure as soon as possible following an injury or property loss due to a wildfire.