LOS ANGELES (CN) - Uncle Sam sued a winery and one of its customers for $1.6 million on Friday, claiming the customer drove his car over dry grass on winery property, setting off a wildfire that burned 698 acres, including 4 acres of National Forest.
People who start wildfires, knowingly or unknowingly, can be held to answer for the cost of fighting the fire.
The United States sued Charles R. Hebard and Flood Ranch Co. dba Rancho Sisquoc Winery for the cost of fighting Sept. 3, 2011 Figueroa Fire in and around Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County.
Hebard attended a family reunion that day at Rancho Sisquoc, federal prosecutors say.
"At some point during the day, Hebard and several of his family members departed the area of Rancho Sisquoc where the reunion was being held ('Flood Ranch homestead structures area') and headed to the winery," according to the complaint. "As Hebard was driving to the winery, he noticed that a family member's vehicle had taken a wrong turn down a fire road leading away from the winery. After waiting several minutes without seeing the vehicle return, Hebard started driving down the fire road after him. Hebard's vehicle met the other vehicle head-on on a steep single-track portion of the road. Unable to turn his vehicle around, Hebard drove his vehicle in reverse until he reached an area in the road that was wide enough to turn around. As he attempted to turn his vehicle around, his vehicle drove over dry grass on the side of the road and hot exhaust from underneath Hebard's vehicle ignited a fire.
"The fire ignited and spread, burning approximately 698 acres, including 4 acres of Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County ('Figueroa Fire').
"The vehicle which ignited the Figueroa Fire was a 'device which may kindle a fire' within the meaning of California Public Resources Code."
Uncle Sam says that the weather was hot and dry and that the defendants should have known that such negligence could start a forest fire.
It seeks firefighting costs and damages for negligence, liability, trespass by fire, and violations of the California Resources Code.
Among the government's claims are that the winery should have cleared brush and grass along the road.