Civil rights lawyer Crump pledges to help victims of Mill Fire in Weed

A call for broad compensation becomes the theme for the predominantly black community of Lincoln Heights, whose residents lost their homes — and the lives of two women — in the Sept. 2 factory fire in the city of Weed, in Siskiyou County.

US civil rights attorney Ben Crump and his legal team visited Weed on Friday where he heard from fire victims at a town hall meeting at the Wayside Church of God in Christ.

Crump, who was the families’ attorney after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, said he represented several dozen people who live in Lincoln Heights, which was largely destroyed when the Mill Fire ripped through the neighborhood .

“We’re here to make sure the community of Lincoln Heights gets equal justice — that’s the most important thing here. Not just in a legal sense, but in a real sense,” Crump said ahead of the rally. church.

Along with the loss of a sense of community, the victims lost family heirlooms such as wedding photos, baby shoes and family Bibles that Crump says “represent our generational existence.”

“I was talking… about how completely devastating it is. Not just the loss of life for some, but the loss of homes, but especially the contents of homes,” he said.

Two women were killed in the fire: Marilyn Hilliard, 73, and Lorenza Mondoc Glover, 65, both of Weed.

Earlier in the afternoon, Crump accompanied Blenda Clark Long as she prayed with her family members and laid a bouquet of flowers at the home of her late aunt, Marilyn Hilliard, and uncle, Clardies Hilliard, who was airlifted for treatment at UC Davis Medical Center. combustion unit. The fire also injured two other people.

Blenda said she contacted Crump’s office and he flew in from New York for Friday’s appearance.

“It’s devastating to see,” Long said of the burning destruction. “It’s beyond devastating to see here in person – everything that happened. We need justice for this.”

Crump said on Friday he wanted to raise awareness at the highest levels of government about the devastation of the Mill Fire, noting how black communities are often marginalized.

“It is a common concern of many minorities, that they will not get equal treatment,” he said. “We will definitely speak to the federal authorities to say, ‘Don’t just sweep this under the rug. We want you to take a look at this. Lives have been lost. People’s lives have been devastated. “”

Crump said he will tell authorities that “however you would treat the citizens of the more affluent community, we want you to treat the citizens of Lincoln Heights the same.”

Several dozen fire victims spoke at City Hall where Crump heard them talk about how tight-knit the Lincoln Heights community is. Residents cared for each other, bringing firewood to those who didn’t have it and buying tires for those who couldn’t afford it.

They also described harrowing escapes from the fast-moving blaze with one man crawling to safety and others barely emerging alive.

Also present at the town hall was Larry Olmstead, president and CEO of United Way of Northern California.

Olmstead said United Way is not involved in the litigation, but will instead help residents with the recovery process.

“We’re here…for interim needs to help the community. We’re not going to leave until the job is done,” he said.

The factory fire burned 3,935 acres and destroyed 118 buildings before being fully contained on September 13.

On Sept. 7, Oregon’s Roseburg Forest Products Co. announced it was investigating allegations that a water-spraying machine used to cool ashes at its veneer plant in Weed had lit all hell. Officially, the fire is still under investigation by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

More than 100 people are suing the Roseburg for losses caused by the mill fire, including Lorenza Glover’s son. Others sue for bodily injury or for loss or damage to their home or other property caused by the fire.

A law firm – Reiner, Slaughter, Mainzer and Frankel – represents 100 to 150 people suing Roseburg. As many as 50 of those clients lost their homes, mostly in Lincoln Heights and Lake Shastina. Many did not have home insurance, a company representative said.

“People living in this community weren’t people who could afford to pay for hotels and buy new cars and new phones, just the basic things that were destroyed in this man-made disaster. “said Crump, based in Florida.

Several at the town hall recounted how their grandfathers came to Weed at the invitation of factory founder Abner Weed and worked for International Paper.

A century ago, Weed’s black community numbered more than 1,000 of the town’s 6,000 residents, according to Blackpast.org. Blacks came to the area to find jobs in the lumber industry. By the 1970s, that number had dropped to 500, although the city’s overall population had fallen to 3,600 by that time.

In 2020, 11.5% of Weed’s population was black, compared to 12.4% of US residents, according to Census.gov.

Mike Chapman is an award-winning journalist and photographer for Record Searchlight in Redding, California. His newspaper career spans Yreka and Eureka in Northern California and Bellingham, Washington. Support local journalism by subscribing today.