The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has filed a lawsuit against the fast food company In-N-Out for $1.3 million dollars for starting the September 2017 Huasna Fire.
According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, the suit alleges that a lawnmower on a patch of property owned by In-N-Out started the fire because of a combination of dry grass, chaff, the lawnmower not being in proper working order, which caused a spark, high winds, and the fire being spread quickly because of the operator failing to react rapidly. According to the lawsuit, “Wildland fires such as the Huasna Fire ordinarily do not happen unless someone was negligent.”
The Huasna Fire burned 245 acres, but no injuries were reported, and no buildings were destroyed. The requested $1.3 million would cover the cost of the firefighting, the investigation, and various logistical costs.
The biggest question of the lawsuit stems from the purpose of the land in Arroyo Grande, as there is no In-N-Out on the land, nor are there many nearby buildings to support a possible franchise. In-N-Out has not commented on why the remote area was being mowed in the first place, or what their side of the story is.
“What it is could have happened to anyone,” said John Becker, a volunteer fireman for almost ten years. “You mow, or you’re working on your car, or you’re using something to dig up the garden. If a small machine or just a piece of metal hits a hard surface to cause a spark, it can start a fire. I mean, we have had cases where a golf club started fires. It’s not unusual.”
“The thing that got them was the neglect part. Firefighters can forgive starting a small fire. We’ve all done that by accident. But this was causing it possibly because of not checking up on something, then either not putting it out themselves properly if it was small enough or not calling us. It caused the fire to become huge.”
“I should note that I don’t know all the facts in the case, and I’m basing that on everything we’ve been told so far. But, as it stands from my point of view, that’s the huge reason behind it.”
Cal Fire and In-N-Out representatives will meet January 23rd at the San Luis Obispo Superior Court building in San Luis Obispo for a case management conference surrounding the suit.
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