Mountain Fire lawsuits consolidated

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As a result of a case-management conference hearing on Monday, June 13, Judge Daniel A. Ottolia ordered Cal Fire’s lawsuit against Tarek M.A. Al-Shawaf and James and Donna Nowlin to be the lead 2013 Mountain Fire case, with lawsuits brought by locals Lon and Susan Paul, Martin Prevosto, Alisia Fisher, Doug McKeller, MTS&L Inc., Lawrence Goda, Diana Amore, Lexington Insurance Co. and Mid-Century Insurance Co. to be tried together with that Cal Fire case.

The fire began Tuesday, July 13, 2013, on property owned by Al-Shawaf, with the Nowlins his property caretakers and employees. It resulted in considerable property damage and the evacuation of the community of Idyllwild until July 21. Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire, and dozens of city, county and tribal fire departments responded to the blaze.

Cal Fire’s lead case was filed about a year ago by the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris, seeking to recover the costs of fighting and investigating the fire in the amount of $8.5 million. The federal government’s costs are expected to be far more than that, given that at the time estimates as to the total fire cost were in the $26- to $28-million range.

The federal government has yet to file a lawsuit, and the Town Crier has sought to determine why it has not from a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as well as the assistant U.S. attorney in charge of trials. Neither will provide any information as to whether they intend to file a lawsuit or, if so, why they are waiting until the eleventh hour to file it. (See the editorial “Out Loud” on page 4 of today’s paper.)

However, the U.S. attorney still has another 30 days within which to file the federal government’s lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out. If the U.S. attorney files in federal court in Los Angeles, instead of Riverside County Superior Court, further transfer complications can be expected.

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