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Spokane County residents sue Inland Power and Light, alleging utility caused Gray wildfire

A Mason County Strike Team mops up the Gray Fire in Spokane County.
Morgan Rubanow - Inciweb
The Mason County Strike Team mopping up the Wanes Gray Fire in Spokane County.

Two groups of Spokane County residents who lost their homes in the Gray Road wildfire have sued Inland Power and Light, accusing the utility of negligently causing the fire.

The Wanes Gray Fire, which burned in and around Medical Lake, Silver Lake and Four Lakes, damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes, burned nearly 11-thousand acres and left one-person dead.

Attorneys for about 40 residents have filed a lawsuit, alleging a faulty outdoor light owned by Inland Power released sparks, or burning material, causing the wildfire.

John Allison, one of the attorneys representing homeowners, said many plaintiffs are struggling to rebuild.

“It’s a unique and devastating experience,” he said. “We have represented many, many people in other fires and have come to know all too well what these folks are going through. We hope not only to try to make them whole, to do as much to relieve their pain, but also through this process educate ourselves and the community as to how, and why these fires from happening.”

The second lawsuit, filed on behalf of both homeowners and renters who were evacuated and lost their homes, also alleges that Inland Power acted negligently.

Gerald Singleton, senior partner for the law firm Singleton Schreiber, said many residents discovered they were underinsured, had no insurance, or that their payout wouldn’t cover the unexpectedly high cost of rebuilding.

“It’s not through any fault of their own, its just how these policies are written,” Singleton said. “One thing that I think is very important for people to understand is this isn’t just a case where victims are being made whole by their insurance and they’re trying to get something else, what these fire victims want is just to be made whole.”

Thomas Kyle-Milward, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, said the agency has determined the Gray Fire and the Oregon Road Fire, which burned at the same time in northern Spokane County, were both human caused. It’s also determined that the Oregon Road Fire started on private property. Kyle-Milward said both however are still under investigation and a specific cause has not yet been released.

Inland Power and Light did not immediately return a request for comment.

A representative told The Spokesman-Review newspaper earlier this week that an “active investigation is still underway and until the results of that are finalized, we can’t speculate at this point.”

Singleton says members of their team will be meeting with Spokane County residents to answer questions about their lawsuit on October 10 at the Women's Club of Spokane at 5:30 p.m.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.