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Natural Disasters

Washington State is known for its beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, this same scenery can wreak havoc on the residents of the state and their property during times of natural disaster. Throughout the state, wildfires and landslides commonly cause severe injury and death to those unfortunate enough to be in their paths.

Below, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about wildfires and other natural disasters.

What causes wildfires?

FEMA defines wildfires as unplanned, unwanted fires burning in natural areas, such as forests, grasslands or prairies. Wildfires can start from environmental causes, such as lightning, but most are caused by humans, either accidentally or intentionally. Wildfires damage natural resources, destroy homes and threaten people’s safety.

The Washington Forest Protection Association reported that in 2021 over 674,000 acres burned in Washington State due to wildfires, over 85% of which were caused by humans.

The peak of Washington State’s wildfire season begins in mid-July and lasts about 12 weeks but in recent years, wildfires have started burning even earlier in the summer and later in fall.

How to reduce the risk of wildfires?

Wildfires can spread very quickly causing widespread property damage and serious injury. The best way to reduce the risk of wildfires is to practice fire safety:

  • Observe burn restrictions
  • Avoid activities involving fire or sparks on days when it is dry and windy
  • If you burn debris or have a campfire, make sure you have a garden hose or other means to fully put out the fire when you are done
  • Never leave a fire unattended

What causes landslides and mudslides?

Landslides occur when masses of earth or rock suddenly move down the side of a mountain, hill or cliff. Washington is a mountainous state with varying levels of rainfall depending on the area, so responsible land and forest management are critical to keep communities safe from landslides.

Landslides can occur for many reasons and are often caused by construction defects, poor planning or land disturbance. Some areas of land are more likely to experience landslides. For example, unstable soil conditions and deforestation can create conditions that destabilize land and increase the chances of a landslide or mudslide.

Climate change is also making weather more extreme, resulting in heavy rainfall in some areas. This heavy rainfall saturates the soil, resulting in mud. When this occurs in areas that have already been destabilized, such as land that has experienced deforestation, the risk for mudslides increases.

Landslides can happen suddenly without much warning, providing little opportunity for people to retreat to safety. The fact that landslides can destroy buildings makes finding a safe space difficult, increasing the likelihood of catastrophic injury.

To learn more about landslides, read our landslide FAQ.

What is the difference between landslides and mudslides?

Landslides are when rock, earth or debris move down a slope. Mudslides are fast-moving landslides that often flow in channels. Both types of natural disasters destroy homes, businesses, and transportation systems and can result in injury and death.

How can I reduce the risk of a landslide on my property?

  • Plant ground cover on slopes and build retaining walls as necessary.
  • Build channels to direct water flow around buildings.
  • Be aware of changes surrounding your property especially when land is cleared, or other substantial changes are made on nearby land.

How can I protect myself from natural disaster injuries?

The best way to protect yourself from natural disasters is to be prepared. Learn about your surroundings so you are aware of the most likely environmental disasters near where you live. It is also important to have a plan for what you will do if a natural disaster occurs in your area. Important parts of your plan should include:

  • Evacuation route: Always plan at least two routes in case one becomes inaccessible.
  • Contact information of family members and other important contacts, like medical facilities
  • An established emergency meeting place should you need to evacuate your home
  • A bag packed with essential items

Here are a couple of resources to assist you as you create your plan:

What does an investigation into a natural disaster entail?

An experienced attorney will speak to you about your injuries and other damages related to the natural disaster. Injuries include any physical trauma you or a loved one has suffered because of the disaster. Additional damages can include property damage, such as destruction to your home or vehicle, and loss of income from having to take time off work due to your injuries. There also can be legal claims in the unfortunate event that someone died as a result of the accident.

Following the 2007 Oso landslide that claimed the lives of more than 20 people and injured dozens more, PCVA conducted its own independent investigation. We found that decisions to allow logging in a precarious area of land contributed to the deadly landslide. Read more about our work with the Oso landslide.

How PCVA can help if you’re injured in a natural disaster

Landslides, mudslides and wildfires can all result in serious injury or even death. In addition to accidents caused by the natural disaster itself, people also can experience injury and illness due to the disaster’s effect on utilities such as electricity, water, gas and sewage lines. If roadways are affected, people who need medical assistance may have difficulty accessing care.

If you have suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one because of a natural disaster, you may be wondering what to do next. Expenses may be piling up, including the cost of medical bills, property damage and the loss of income from having to take time off work. You may also be facing tremendous grief because of the death of a family member.

If you have suffered injuries or losses due to a natural disaster, an experienced attorney can conduct an investigation to see if anyone is responsible. If there are non-natural influences that contributed to the disaster, the attorney may be able to pursue compensation from the parties at fault. PCVA has years of experience helping parties injured in landslides, mudslides and wildfires recover compensation. If you would like to speak with a PCVA lawyer, complete our online form or call us at (253) 777-0799 or (206) 462-4334. All conversations are confidential.

How much do you charge?

Our work is done on a contingency basis. This means that you do not pay us on an hourly basis, and we advance the costs of litigation. If we help you resolve your case, we receive a percentage of the amount you receive, and you reimburse us for the costs we advanced on your behalf.