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Man whose mom died in Mill Fire in Northern California, other families sue Roseburg plant

CALIFORNIA (From news reports) -- More than 100 people are suing the Roseburg Forest Products Co. in Oregon for losses caused by the Mill Fire in Siskiyou County.

Among them is a man whose mother died in the blaze.

Others are suing for personal injuries, or for loss or damage of their homes or other property by the fire.

Last Wednesday, Roseburg announced it was investigating claims a water-spraying machine used to cool ash at its veneer mill in Weed ignited the Mill Fire on Sept. 2.

The residents who've filed the suits are represented by Northern California law firms with offices in Redding and Sacramento.

The fire erupted in Weed and raced north to Lake Shastina. It swept through the historic Lincoln Heights neighborhood in Weed.

Redding lawyer Russell Reiner said his clients described houses "exploding."

"These people had no time to grab anything. They just ran out their doors," he said.

The son of Lorenza Mondoc Glover of Weed filed a lawsuit in San Francisco County Superior Court, Reiner said. The lawsuit alleges the Mill Fire overcame the 65-year-old woman, killing her while she tried to escape the flames.

"The fire hit so quickly that she was running out of the house and running to her car. the fire engulfed her (and) she died beside her car," Reiner said. At the time the fire overwhelmed her, Glover was talking on her cell phone with a neighbor who called to check if Glover got out of her home safely. Glover said she saw smoke and "was then heard gasping and grunting" before the call died.

Glover's son was not ready to talk to reporters about his mother, Reiner said.

The same Redding law office filed another lawsuit against Roseburg for property destroyed in the Mill Fire. Weed resident Tim Smith lost his home in the blaze, Reiner said.

Smith is also seeking damages for personal injury resulting from his being forced to flee the fire, said Reiner, but didn't explain the nature of the injury.

Smith's suit is "believed to be the first in the state that names Roseburg Forest Products Co. as the entity responsible for the Mill Fire," Reiner said.

Last week, Roseburg said -- through company spokesman Pete Hillan -- its investigators are focusing on a machine that was used to cool ashes ejected from a co-generating electrical plant as the possible cause of the fire.

However, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said it has not yet determined the cause of the blaze.

Calls to Roseburg's Springfield, Oregon, headquarters were not returned Monday.

As of Monday, Reiner said his law firm -- Reiner, Slaughter, Mainzer, & Frankel -- is representing 100-150 people suing Roseburg, some of whom suffered burns while fleeing the fire.

As many as 50 of those clients lost homes, mostly in Lincoln Heights and Lake Shastina, he said. "A lot of my clients had no insurance."

Sacramento law firm Frantz Law Group is also representing Mill Fire clients suing Roseburg. In its complaint filed in Sacramento County Superior Court on behalf of Nichole Hammond and her family, the law firm said the "defendants knew that Siskiyou County is an area highly susceptible to catastrophic fires," and that they "ignored the hazards and continued to engage in dangerous practices."

In its announcement of its investigation into "Shed 17," Roseburg said it was planning to create a community restoration fund of up to $50 million to help fire victims. Roseburg has said it's not admitting liability by setting up the fund, just that "the company is aware of the painful process other communities endured when seeking assistance after similar fires."

A team that surveyed the fire zone found the Mill Fire wiped out 118 structures and damaged another 26, including homes, businesses and other buildings, Cal Fire said. The fire flattened the century-old Lincoln Heights neighborhood and blocks of homes in Weed.

The fire also injured three people and killed two, including Glover, according to the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes.

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