Suits filed over swamp fire

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 18, 2000

DANIEL TYLER GOODEN / L’Observateur / November 18, 2000

LUTCHER – Last month’s swamp fire between St. James and St. John theBaptist parishes is still causing problems, this time for Gulf Liquids Inc. andWillbros Group, Inc.

The companies are being sued by various residents of St. James Parishbecause of alleged damages sustained from the swamp fire.

The suit, filed on Oct 27 in Convent, claims that Willbros Group started thefire.

Gulf Liquids owns a pipeline, and its right-of-way is in the area where the fireburned. The Willbros Group was allegedly hired to clear the right-of-way,which it did by burning the area.

Gerald Falgoust, director of emergency operations in St. James Parish,stated early on during the fire the cause was unknown. Whether any agencyhad discovered a reason for the fire was unknown to Falgoust as of Nov 17.

We have no evidence that incriminates any person or company,” said WillyMartin, St. James Parish sheriff. The sheriff’s department looked for sign ofwho started the fire, but no point of origin was ever determined. Otheragencies are conducting investigations, but so far no information has beenreceived concerning the origins of the fire, said Martin.

Attorney Donna Grodner, who is representing the St. James Parish residents,said she did not have a sworn statement from any official agency as to thecause of the fire. The claim against Gulf Liquids and the Willbros Group isbased on an unsworn eye witness observer. Aerial photos had been taken ofthe site of the fire that seems to bolster the eye witness’s account, statedGrodner.

Grodner, of Baton Rouge, is representing the plaintiffs along with DeniseVinet of Baton Rouge and Robert Snyder of Lutcher.

The plaintiffs filing suit are Martha Branch and Lorena Armont of Lutcher,Martha Adams of St. James, Gloria Braxton of Convent and Quenten Batisteof Vacherie. The suit also allows for anyone who was present or ownedproperty in the areas affected by the suit. The smoke and fog mixture attimes covered from Reserve in St. John Parish to Paulina in St. JamesParish. On the west bank roads were closed as far as north Vacherie.

Plaintiffs are claiming damages due to exposure to smoke, fire, noxiousodors and fumes, physical pain and suffering, past and future medical,hospital and pharmaceutical expenses, property damages, lost wages, mentalanguish and fear of cancer, inconvenience, cleaning expenses and any otherclaim or damage action as may be cognisable under law.

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