Three Okanogan County residents — including a former county commissioner — are suing the state Department of Natural Resources, saying it was negligent in its firefighting effort.

Share story

OKANOGAN, Okanogan County — Three Okanogan County residents — including a former county commissioner — are suing the state, saying it was negligent when it failed to put out a small wildfire on its land which spread to their land last summer.

They filed a lawsuit in Okanogan County Superior Court on Tuesday, and are seeking millions of dollars in damages from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for their losses in the Carlton complex fire, a news release from their attorneys says.

DNR spokeswoman Sandra Kaiser declined to comment.

The Golden Hike fire was one of four fires that combined last July to create the 256,000-acre Carlton complex fire, which destroyed over 300 homes and caused tens of millions of dollars in damages.

The three residents who filed the suit are Dave and Deannis Schulz and rancher John Clees.

Dave Schulz, a Twisp orchardist and a former Okanogan County commissioner, has been vocal about what he said was the lack of adequate response to these and other wildfires by state and federal fire officials.

He told commissioners at a public hearing in January that after successfully protecting his 77 acres of timber from wildfires for decades, it all burned in the Carlton complex fire. In the news release, he said the fire could have been put out in a day. “We called it in over and over, but we were told they would handle it for us and we should leave. There was absolutely no reason to leave this fire unattended,” his statement says.

The lawsuit claims DNR abandoned the firelines, and refused help from local residents and volunteers who wanted to help put out the fire.

The release also quotes North Cascades Smokejumper pilot Kevin McBride, who said he radioed in the coordinates of the Golden Hike fire to dispatchers, but his request to allow the smokejumpers to respond was denied, and he took them instead to a fire in Oregon that was too large for smokejumpers.

Brewster attorney Alex Thomason filed claims last year on behalf of more than 200 Okanogan County residents who lost homes and other property in the Carlton complex fire. He is joined in the lawsuit by Seattle lawyers Darrell Cochran and Jason Amala.

“This case will help establish liability for many of those property owners, and longer term, we believe the community will be safer if DNR is held accountable,” Cochran said in the news release.