$236 Million Lawsuit Filed By Cedar Fire Victims

Residents Claim Government Should Have Stopped Fire In Early Stages

A group of residents whose properties were damaged or destroyed by the 2003 Cedar fire accidentally set three years ago Wednesday is suing the federal government for more than $236 million, arguing that officials should have stopped the blaze in its early stages.

The suit, which plaintiffs' lawyers hope will be certified as a class action, also says federal officials should not have allowed hunting or other recreational uses in the Cleveland National Forest because an extreme fire hazard existed, the North County Times reported.

Sergio Martinez, of West Covina, admitted setting the fire on Oct. 25, 2003, to signal for help after he became lost while hunting in the Kesslar Flats area.

The blaze burgeoned into the largest wildfire in state history, killing 15 people, destroying more than 2,200 homes and causing more than $1.06 billion in damages.

Martinez was sentenced last November to six months in community confinement. He was also ordered to perform 960 hours of community service and pay $150 a month to the U.S. Forest Service for five years, with the money to go toward training hunters.

The suit filed Friday asserts that the federal government had a legal obligation to "eliminate known dangerous conditions" on federal land, the Times reported.

The government failed to fulfill its obligations by allowing hunting at a time of known fire danger and by failing to suppress the fire when it had just begun, the lawsuit alleges, according to the North County Times.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the U.S. government to pay more than $236 million for the costs of property damage that the fire caused, plus interest and legal fees, the Times reported.

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