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Complaint filed against railroads for loss of personal property during wildfire near Paradise

AVA Law Group in Billings is seeking millions of dollars in damages on behalf of 21 plaintiffs from the Paradise area.
River Road East
Posted at 5:30 PM, Nov 13, 2023

PARADISE — The River Road East Fire took off near Paradise in August, triggering mass evacuations and eventually burning thousands of acres.

A class action lawsuit has now been filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula on behalf of 21 residents who lost their homes and property in the fire.

Teague Westrope, an attorney with the AVA Law Group in Billings told MTN News that damages to personal property including homes, timber, and other items total in the millions of dollars.

Westrope stated that the plaintiffs claim the fire started due to train activity and accuse Montana Rail Link and BNSF Railway Corporation of acting negligently after the blaze began.

In September, while the fire was partially contained, AVA held town hall meetings to see how they could support local residents. At first, five people came forward, but now there are 21 seeking compensation for their losses in the River Road East Fire.

One of the residents escaped his home with nothing but his wife's ashes.

AVA Law Group also says they connected with someone who allegedly witnessed the beginning of the fire.

"This individual was driving from Highway 200 onto River Road East and saw the fire when it was just in one tree. And she indicated that, at the time, first responders — firefighters were not on scene," Westrope explained. "However, there was a service truck from one of the railroad companies, either Montana Rail Link or BNSF right there with railway crew members photographing or videotaping the fire."

MTN News reached out to Montana Rail Link and they had no comment on the matter.

Additionally, the Lolo National Forest, which manages the land where the River Road East Fire burned, is investigating the origin of the fire. They have no timeline regarding when they will come to a conclusion.

This is a developing story and we will continue to keep you updated as we get new information.