Federal Government Sues California Homeowner For $25 Million Over 2013 Wildfire

A California homeowner is being sued by the federal government for $25 million for the 2013 wildfire that burned 27,500 acres of land in the San Jacinto Mountains. In a lawsuit filed by the federal government on Thursday, homeowner and Saudi businessman Tarek M. Al-Shawaf is accused of negligence for causing a fire that burned for 16 days and caused the evacuation of 5,000 people.

San Bernardino National Forest Wildfire [Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]
San Bernardino National Forest Wildfire [Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]

Tarek M. Al-Shawaf is founder and president of Saudconsult, one of the oldest engineering and architectural firms in Saudi Arabia, and he also serves as the Chairman of The Board at Saudi Consulting Services. He is being blamed for not maintaining an electrical junction box that caused the Mountain Fire that started July 15, 2013, and burned until July 30, 2013.

James and Donna Nowlin have also been named in the federal lawsuit. Tarek M. Al-Shawaf had hired the couple as caretakers to the home, called Gibraltar West, and they were responsible for maintaining the property, according to the Idyllwild Town Crier.

The federal government contends that an electrical box cover was warped and open, wires inside the box sparked, and fell on the ground, according to The Telegraph.

“Property owners and their agents have a responsibility to ensure that property under their control is maintained in a safe fashion. The fire endangered countless lives, including those of firefighters who battle these large-scale blazes,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker stated.

According to the Business Insider, James R. Lance, the attorney representing Tarek Al-Shawaf and the Newlines said the following.

“Our investigation indicates the fire did not start as alleged in the lawsuit filed today by the federal government.”

The Mountain Fire in Riverside County caused massive destruction in its path. Over 3,000 firefighters were called in to help try and contain the fire in and around the San Bernardino National Forest and the Mount San Jacinto State Park. The fire destroyed many homes and caused over $15 million in damages. The fire came within two miles of Palm Springs and Idyllwild, via 89.3 WPCC.

U.S. Forest Service firefighter [Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]
U.S. Forest Service firefighter [Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]

The San Bernardino National Forest is federally managed and consists of 679,380 acres of land. There are a wide range of activities for visitors to do. Visitors can enjoy hiking over 500 miles of trails, camping, fishing, rock climbing, biking tours, hot springs, and sightseeing to name a few, via the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

There is also a vast array of wildlife throughout the San Bernardino National Forest. The forest is filled with thousands of different species of animals, including birds of prey such as hawks and eagles, bears, coyotes, wolves, bighorn sheep, bobcats, and mountain lions.

A red-tailed hawk [Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images]
A red-tailed hawk [Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images]

Mount San Jacinto State Park is part of the San Jacinto Mountains and is the second-highest mountain range in Southern California, with its highest peak reaching 10,834-feet above sea level. The San Jacinto Mountains also has the world’s largest rotating tramcars and the second steepest vertical cable in the world.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway climbs to an elevation of 8,516 feet to the top of the mountain. There are two restaurants that you can enjoy at 8,500 feet with spectacular views, a museum, and observation decks, according to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway website.

On May 17, 2014, Tarek Al-Shawaf received the WPI Presidential Medal and plays a major role in Saudi Arabia. Al-Shawaf has held title as vice chairman of the Federation of Consultants from Islamic Countries, is a founding member of the Steering Committees of the U.S. Saudi Arabian Business Council, and a founder of the prestigious Saudi equestrian club, according to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The federal government, in February of 2016, asked Al-Shawaf and the other defendants to pay damages for the wildfire, but according to the complaint, the defendants “have not paid any part of the sum demanded by the United States.”

[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]