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U.S District Court Awards Government Millions For Copper Fire

The court finds the construction companies that were responsible for the fire financially responsible for cost.

A federal jury has ordered two construction companies to pay more than $36 million to the government for the 2002 Copper Fire that started in Santa Clarita.

The reimbursement, which is the largest jury award ever ordered in a firefighting cost-recovery case, is also expected to pay for environmental damages the blaze caused as it burned more than 18,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest.

On Wednesday a jury in the U.S District Court ordered CB&I Constructors and Merco Construction Engineers to pay $36.43 million for the cost of fighting the fire.

The jury verdict ordered CB&I and Merco to pay $6,592,664 for the cost of fire suppression; $528,840 for Burned Area Emergency Response costs; $515,641 for future remedial work such as replacing burned signs and markers; and $28.8 million for environmental damages to San Francisquito Canyon and its watershed.

The environmental damage caused what Acting United States Attorney George S. Cardona calls "irreparable harm" to the habitat of the threatened Red-legged frog and the historic Hazel Dell Mining Camp.

The blaze was reportedly started when an employee of CB&I was grinding in the Copper Canyon area, and hot metal sparks landed in nearby brush.

In the lawsuit filed by the U.S Attorney's office last year, prosecutors alleged that Merco, who subcontracted out CB&I, showed negligence because their employees were suppose to water down the construction site and failed to do so.

"The jury clearly appreciated the value of the Angeles National Forest and understood the severe damage caused by the fire," said Cardona. "As a result of the fire, both the wildlife of the forest and its human users are faced with issues that include increased erosion, increased risk of future fires and the loss of the use of the forest by the public."