Alleging “severe and devastating” damage to crops and related infrastructure, La Paloma Ranch — a multigenerational farming and ranching outfit near Refugio — has sued Presbyterian Camps and Conference Centers, Inc. (PCCCI), which owns nearby Rancho La Scherpa, origin point of the Sherpa Fire.
On June 15, 2016, a Scherpa resident started the wildfire by removing a burning log from a fireplace and carrying it to an outside water faucet, where gusting winds blew embers into the surrounding vegetation. The Sherpa scorched 7,474 acres, cost more than $16 million to suppress, and destabilized the landscape, causing subsequent mudslides that damaged nearby properties the following winter. This May, District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced she would not file criminal charges against PCCCI. La Paloma’s civil complaint details gross negligence, among other allegations.
PCCCI “failed to adopt reasonable and commonly accepted fire safety practices, [such as] clearing brush … from a reasonable distance around the dwellings,” according to the complaint. Further, La Paloma’s Eric Hvolboll — a contributing writer to the Santa Barbara Independent — “suffered severe and painful injuries” while inspecting the wildfire’s damage to his property; he has had a loss of earnings and extensive medical and physical therapy expenses.
PCCCI President Rick Harrison said, “It was very unfortunate, and the guy who did it … feels horrible.” Harrison added that Cal Fire inspects La Scherpa annually. “We clear [brush] all around our buildings, and we always pass our inspections.”