A San Diego County Shriner group is seeking $20 million from the federal government, claiming it is responsible for the destructive brush fire that burned their Mount Laguna camp last July.
The Al Bahr Shriners filed a complaint against the Bureau of Land Management Friday to recoup losses caused by the Chariot Fire.
That blaze scorched 7,055 acres and destroyed or damaged 150 structures at the Al Bahr Shrine Camp, which included an 87-year-old lodge, two dormitories, five rental cabins and a dining hall, the complaint says.
Last month, Cal Fire announced investigators had determined the cause of the Chariot Fire: a BLM vehicle.
According to the court complaint, BLM employee Jason Peters – who is listed as a defendant in the suit – negligently failed to clear debris from underneath the Jeep he was driving while on duty on July 6, 2013.
The vehicle ignited brush stuck in its undercarriage, and as Peters drove on and off road near Highway S2, the fire ignited material in at least four “general origin areas,” the complaint says.
A burned fuel line in the Jeep also drained liquid from the fuel tank, helping the fire to grow.
Two days later, those flames had spread to the 25-acre Shriner community on Mount Laguna, which was used by the Shriners and other groups for activities like weddings, camping, parties and more.
Now, the land can no longer be used.
“Defendants knew or should have known that the Jeep posed the threat of and created the dangerous condition in and around an area that was extremely susceptible to wild fire,” reads the complaint.
The plaintiffs claim the BLM is responsible under California Health and Safety Code, which says if a person willfully or negligently allows fire to spread to the property of someone else, either privately or publicly owned, then that person is liable to the owner for any damages.
The complaint also alleges that the BLM was negligent and should have known Peters was “unfit” to perform his work because “Peters’ previous work performance and previous incidents on and off duty gave notice to the BLM of his unfitness and incompetence for the position for which he was retained,” it says.
According to the court documents, the Shriners served a claim for damages to the BLM last December, but the government agency did not take any action on the claim during the six month period to respond, which ended Thursday.
That allowed the Shriners to file their multi-million dollar complaint in federal court Friday.
In it, they seek $20 million for the loss of their property, current and future use and business income from the camp. They also want repayment for attorneys’ fees, costs of the suit and other relief a court may deem fit.
The BLM has not responded yet to NBC 7’s request for comment on this story.