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Feds Blame PacifiCorp for Oregon Wildfire

EUGENE, Ore. (CN) - PacifiCorp should pay for a wildfire caused by its power lines from a hydroelectric dam, the federal government claims in court.

The United States sued PacifiCorp and Mountain Power Construction Company in Federal Court on Tuesday, accusing the companies of breach of contract, strict liability and trespass by fire and demanding reimbursement for fire damage done by the 2009 Williams Creek Fire in the Umpqua National Forest.

Federal agencies granted a 35-year license to operate the North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project and its transmission lines in 2003 - on the condition that PacifiCorp and Mountain Power implement a fire suppression and vegetation management plan, according to the complaint.

The companies were supposed to clear brush and trees away from the Dixonville-to-Soda Spring power lines moving hydroelectric power to the grid and check the area annually for fire hazards, the government says.

But six years later, the Williams Creek Fire ignited in that very spot, the government claims. A fire investigation allegedly concluded that the fire was caused by the power lines.

The government says it paid a pretty penny to squelch the fire, which burned more than 8,000 acres of the Umpqua National Forest over 19 days. The fire destroyed wildlife habitat, trees that protected the watersheds and prevented erosion, areas valuable for scenic and environmental reasons and assorted structures, the lawsuit states.

PacifiCorp and Mountain Power must cover the cost of damages from the fire, which the government says will be determined at trial.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy J. Williams filed the suit on behalf of the government.

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