7/14/16, "Feds sue homeowner, caretakers blamed in Mountain Fire for $25 million," DesertSun.com, USA Today, Anna Rumer
"The federal government is suing a Saudi Arabian businessman for $25 million, claiming that the negligence of he and his Mountain Center home's caretakers led to the 2013 Mountain Fire, which scorched 27,531 acres and destroyed 23 buildings over two weeks.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, claims that Tarek Al-Shawaf, the founder and president of a large engineering and architectural company in Saudi Arabia called Saudconsult, failed to maintain an electrical junction box on his property. An investigation of the fire determined that an electrical discharge from this box "shot sparks and hot material out of the box and onto dry ground vegetation below,” according to the lawsuit.
Al-Shawaf's property caretakers, James and Donna Nowlin, are also named in the lawsuit.
The defendants had a duty “to properly inspect and maintain their electrical equipment, electrical wires, and electrical junction boxes to ensure that they were safe, properly secured, and clear from dangerous conditions,” the complaint claims.
“Property owners and their agents have a responsibility to ensure that property under their control is maintained in a safe fashion,” U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said in a statement. “In addition to endangering countless lives, including those of firefighters who battle these large-scale blazes, the failure to properly manage the property and the electrical equipment on the property in this case cost taxpayers approximately $24 million.”
Fighting the fire for two weeks was estimated to have cost the U.S. Forest Service about $15 million, according to CalFire. About $9 million in damages to natural resources was recorded and $300,000 was spent performing emergency rehabilitation.
Four other groups, including the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CalFire and Mountain Center residents and business owners Lon and Susan Paul, Martin Prevosto, Alisia Fisher, Doug McKellar and McKellar Tree Services and Landscaping Inc., Diana Amore and Lawrence Goda, filed similar lawsuits in 2015.
"The main reason (for the lawsuit) is that it destroyed my business and most of my mother's property," Lon Paul told The Desert Sun in 2015. "If it wasn't for the brave efforts of a firefighter, it would have been completely destroyed."
CalFire asked for a minimum of $25,000 while the other plaintiff groups asked to recover the cost of damages to their homes and businesses.
The federal lawsuit was put into motion, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release, after Al-Shawaf and the Nowlins failed to pay for the costs and damages connected to the fire that was demanded by the U.S. Forest Service."
"Anna Rumer covers the Eastern Coachella Valley for The Desert Sun."...
Image above: Tarek Al-Shawaf pictured on May 16, 2014 entry on website of his alma mater, Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass. (USA): "WPI to Present the Presidential Medal to Tarek Al-Shawaf at Commencement on May 17."
"A 1955 graduate, Al-Shawaf is the founder, president, and chairman of Saudconsult, the oldest and largest engineering and architectural firm in Saudi Arabia....
In 1965 he launched Saudi Consulting Services (better known today as Saudconsult) in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. From modest beginnings, the company has grown to employ more than 2,000 engineers, architects, consultants, designers, technicians, and other staff and to operate out of six offices in Saudi Arabia and overseas offices in London, Cairo, and Bahrain.
Over the years, Saudconsult has constructed numerous industrial projects, transportation systems, modern housing facilities, schools, medical facilities, power plants, water and waste water projects, harbors, marinas, and airports. It has participated in various water desalinization projects along the west and east coasts of Saudi Arabia, which has the largest water desalinization program in the world, and it has taken the lead on an array of oil and gas projects that continue to help the nation capitalize on the world’s largest oil reserve. The company has also completed architectural and engineering projects in a long list of nations, including Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Mali, Djibouti, and Azerbaijan.
In addition to leading Saudconsult, Tarek Al-Shawaf plays an influential role in the community, where he has held such titles as director of the International Road Federation, vice chairman of the Federation of Consultants from Islamic Countries, founding member of the Steering Committees of the U.S. Saudi Arabian Business Council, and a founder of the prestigious Saudi equestrian club, which he has served as a member of the board of directors and secretary general of the board.
In service to his alma mater, he has been a longtime member of the WPI Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Advisory Board and as a member of the President’s International Advisory Board. In addition, he has sponsored five scholarships for students from the Middle East to attend WPI. The university has recognized Tarek Al-Shawaf's leadership and service by presenting him with an honorary doctorate in engineering in 1990 and the Robert H. Goddard Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement in 1995."
AP story, no mention that California "homeowner" is a Saudi who owns a multinational business based in Saudi Arabia:
7/14/16, "Homeowner Sued For $25 Million Over California Wildfire," AP via CBS Los Angeles
"The federal government sued a homeowner for nearly $25 million on Thursday, contending his negligence sparked a 2013 fire in the mountains east of Los Angeles that forced 5,000 people from their homes.
The lawsuit says that a short in a poorly maintained electrical junction box sparked a blaze in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs that charred more than 27,500 acres of brush and timber — about 43 square miles — and at one point threatened the town of Idyllwild.
Investigators determined that the lid of the plastic box containing wires was warped and ajar, the lawsuit said.
“As a result, an electrical discharge inside the box shot sparks and hot material out of the box and onto dry ground vegetation below,” according to the lawsuit.
“Property owners and their agents have a responsibility to ensure that property under their control is maintained in a safe fashion,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in a statement.
The fire endangered “countless lives, including those of firefighters who battle these large-scale blazes,” she said.
The fire burned for more than two weeks in and around San Bernardino National Forest. More than 3,000 firefighters, 250 fire engines and 30 aircraft fought the blaze.
The U.S. Forest Service spent more than $15 million on firefighting, and the blaze caused in excess of $9 million in damage to resources, ranging from wildlife and timber to eroded soil, according to the lawsuit. More than $300,000 was spent on emergency rehabilitation of the area.
The lawsuit, which alleges negligence and violations of California law, was filed in Los Angeles one day before the third anniversary of the fire’s eruption. It names Tarek M. Al-Shawaf and two caretakers he employed at his home, known as Gibraltar West, in the community of Mountain Center.
The lawsuit was filed after Al-Shawaf and the caretakers failed to pay the costs of firefighting and fire damage demanded by the government, according to the lawsuit.
Messages for Al-Shawaf’s attorney, James Lance of San Diego, weren’t immediately returned."