KING 5 has learned that Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad will pay a million dollar settlement to three families who lost their homes in a wildfire along the Columbia River Gorge in 2007.
A source familiar with the agreement filed in Seattle Federal Court says the settlement is expected to be finalized later this week and a lawsuit that was filed nearly five years ago will be dismissed.
A BNSF contractor was performing track maintenance, called grinding, in Skamania County in August of 2007. The grinding machine spews sparks and embers and it reportedly triggered several spot fires on the hot and windy August day.
In spite of this, the crew kept grinding and triggered a major fire near Broughton Mill in Skamania County. Video shows the flames racing up the Columbia River Gorge and destroying homes in the White Salmon area.
In 2009, the KING 5 Investigators identified the Broughton Mill fire as one of more than 200 wildfires sparked by railroad operations in Washington State in the previous 10 years. Critics said that some of these fires, like Broughton Mill, were preventable. Local cities and jurisdictions complained that they could not prevent hazardous railroading operations because the railroads are regulated by federal law.
The attorney for the three victims in the lawsuit declined to talk about the specifics of the settlement. But he did say his clients were glad to be at the end of a “…long, hard fight.”
“I’m hopeful that the railroads will abide by common sense and not do grinding or other dangerous railroad operations when the fire season is high,” said Spokane attorney Richard Eymann.