A major railway paid federal authorities a $1.25 million settlement in connection with a fire in northeastern Minnesota that burned nearly 400 acres of national forest and other land nearly four years ago.
The U.S. government alleged that the fire east of Hoyt Lakes was sparked on May 6, 2016, when a Canadian National Railway locomotive suffered mechanical failure.
By the time the fire was suppressed days later by hundreds of firefighting personnel in the air and on the ground, 387 acres had been burned within the Superior National Forest and on other land belonging to St. Louis County and private landowners.
The settlement paid to the U.S. Forest Service, announced Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis, falls short of the $1.5 million that authorities said the fire cost to suppress. It also did not require Canadian National Railway and its subsidiary Wisconsin Central Limited, to admit to any wrongdoing.
“A variety of factors were taken into account in negotiating the agreement,” said Tasha Zerna, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We think this is a great result that will send a strong message. The defendants complied quickly with the settlement and have already paid.”
The fire not only burned nearly 1,000 acres but also forced the evacuation of several residences in the remote Iron Range hamlet of Skibo that is tucked in the national forest.
On the day the fire was reported, 18 residents of the Northland Village assisted-living center in nearby Hoyt Lakes had to leave for several hours.
Flames from what has since been dubbed the Skibo Fire were blamed by federal authorities on poorly maintained locomotive equipment. Neither the formal settlement agreement nor U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald’s office disclosed any specifics into the mechanical trouble.
“This settlement goes a long way toward compensating the public for the expense of fighting the fire and the damage to public lands,” MacDonald said in a statement.
Attorneys for the railways either declined to comment or have yet to return messages.