Lawsuit Claims Equipment, Rancher Responsible for Oregon Wildfire

A wildfire that burned parts of a Native American reservation in Oregon was allegedly sparked by John Deere farm equipment and a careless rancher, a lawsuit claims. The wildfire lawsuit was filed by The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs over the origins of the 2017 blaze in Nena Springs.

The tribal group is seeking $12.25 million in economic damages from lost timber on its reservation in northern Oregon. The smoke from the fires, the lawsuit says, prevented reservation residents from enjoying the land.

The wildfire torched over 106 square miles (68,135 acres) and burned for two weeks. Hundreds were evacuated from their homes. It took the work of 240 firefighters to contain the blaze.

According to the Oregon State Fire Marshal, the fire was accidental and “probably caused by the use of a combine for routine harvesting operations.” The fire, according to the fire marshal, was exacerbated by 100+ degree temperatures.

The lawsuit is claiming negligence against Lester Lindell and Jamie Wisenbaker. Lester Lindell is a contractor who hired Larry Wisenbaker to harvest wheat for Jamie Wisenbaker.

Larry Wisenbaker and Lester Lindell allegedly failed to inspect the John Deere combine harvester or notice that a rock stuck in the chute sparked the fire. The machine also did not have properly adjusted mirrors, according to the lawsuit.

Larry told The Oregonian that he had attempted to extinguish the blaze, but that the fire just took off.

The lawsuit states that Larry Wisenbaker operated the combine without suitable experience or training. The complaint also claims that John Deere “should have designed a machine capable of encountering natural debris” without causing sparks, fires or mechanical issues.

The wildfire sparked on August 8, 2017, just a few short weeks before a major solar eclipse. The event brought in an influx of tourists to the reservation. The reservation was on the path of totality.