News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Freres, C.W. settle with PacifiCorp over 2020 fires

A pair of local timber companies have settled with PacifiCorp over the 2020 wildfires as the utility seeks access to billions in credit to cover additional possible wildfire losses.

On Monday, April 15, lawsuits filed by Freres Timber Inc. and C.W. Specialty Lumber Inc. were dismissed in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Parties gave notice April 12 that settlements were reached.

A trial scheduled for April 22 has been canceled and the cases are now closed.

A representative of Freres told The Canyon Weekly the terms of their settlement were confidential and declined to offer details.

The Canyon Weekly reached out to counsel for C.W. and did not receive a response by press time.

A spokesperson for PacifiCorp told The Canyon Weekly the company was “pleased to resolve this matter on behalf of our affected customers and communities.” PacifiCorp also said electric utilities are becoming a riskier investment in wildfire-prone areas and called in lawmakers to ensure the electric companies remain financially viable.

The two companies sued PacifiCorp separately in 2022, and their claims were later consolidated with the class action suit James et al vs. PacifiCorp.

A trial in James last year found PacifiCorp negligently caused the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires on Sept. 7, 2020. A second phase is under way to determine damages to an estimated 5,000 class members, and the April 22 trial was to be part of those proceedings.

Freres, based in Lyons, was seeking $15.7 million in damages, according to an amended complaint filed Oct. 18, 2023. It alleged the Santiam Fire damaged 7,000 acres of timberland, caused work stoppages at its mills and displaced many of its 450 employees.

C.W., which is now defunct, was seeking $22.6 million, according to an amended complaint filed Oct. 17, 2023. It claimed the Santiam Fire destroyed its mill in Mill City where it employed 24 people, as well as 30 acres of timberland. It also sought damages for lost profits due to the closure of the business.

PacifiCorp denied wrongdoing and offered multiple defenses including claims the two plaintiffs had not proven PacifiCorp caused the fires, or that it was the only cause. The company also argued, because it had settled with a class of insurers last year over the 2020 fires, plaintiffs who received insurance payouts were not entitled to recover damages on their own.

The company additionally claimed it could not be sued according to a limited liability clause it has proposed to the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) which would bar wildfire suits, among other actions by customers. As of press time this request remained pending before PUC.

While the Freres and C.W. settlements were not public, PacifiCorp acknowledged in recent PUC filings it has settled for $735 million with 830 claimants as of Feb. 23 over the 2020 Labor Day fires. This is in addition to $1.6 billion in projected costs related to the fires as of the end of 2023.

PacifiCorp requested authorization from PUC on March 13 to issue up to $5 billion in long-term debt, and on April 5 to acquire up to $3.8 billion in revolving credit and borrowing agreements. The filings said PacifiCorp needed access to cash due to anticipated increases in costs including losses over the 2020 wildfires.

The company said, because of many pending legal claims including the James suit and a potential $1 billion suit from the federal government, final wildfire losses were difficult to calculate.

“PacifiCorp is currently unable to reasonably estimate a specific range of possible additional losses that could be incurred,” said the filings.

PUC granted the March 13 request on April 2, and as of press time the April 5 request remained pending.

Previous Article

Tour shows promise of Canyon parks

Next Article

Linn County Sheriff’s Office Log: April 15 – 21

You might be interested in …

Chemeketa offers Bolt Summer Program

Chemeketa Community College will offer free five-week intensive courses through the FIPSE grant this summer. Classes run June 21 – July 23, and available to 2022 high school graduates and upcoming seniors.  The Bolt Summer […]