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New Lawsuit Stemming From Oak Knoll Fire

ASHLAND, Ore. – Insurance companies that paid to rebuild several homes in Ashland’s Oak Knoll neighborhood after a fire in 2010 are suing the owners of a vacant lot where the fire began.

Court records show Allstate, State Farm, Uniguard, Federal insurance and Valley Property & Casualty have filed lawsuits against the owners of a vacant field next to Washington Street and Interstate 5 in Ashland. Those owners listed in court records are Hawkins Family Trust, Joyce and Daryl Hawkins and Robert S. Peterson. The insurance companies have also filed suit against John L. Scott Real Estate.

Investigators say the fire began in that field in August 2010 when a transient, John Thiry, dropped a cigarette and ignited tall dry grass. The flames spread through the field, eventually jumping the freeway and into the Oak Knoll neighborhood, where it burned 11 homes. Thiry was arrested and eventually acquitted of charges; a judge said he likely did start the fire, but it was not proven in court that he knew of the consequences.

Many of those homes have since been rebuilt with insurance payouts. People living and working near the field off Washington Street say the field would often have tall dry grass, including during the hot summer months. They said the spot was also a hangout for transients prior to the fire. In the years since, neighbors said they have seen fewer homeless in the area.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs and defendants did not return multiple voice messages on Monday. Neighbors in the Oak Knoll neighborhood were mixed on their reactions to the lawsuit. Some said it was unfair to blame the lot owners, others said the owners should be held responsible for not cutting the tall grass, and some had not heard of the lawsuit.