Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented the families after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, said he now represents “several dozen” people who live in Lincoln Heights, the historically Black community in Weed that was largely destroyed after the Mill Fire ripped through the area in early September.
Crump said he’d be talking with those wildfire victims during a town hall meeting being held at 5 p.m. Friday at Wayside Church of God in Christ, 1147 Church Ave. in Weed.
When it ignited on Sept. 2, the Mill Fire destroyed most of Lincoln Heights, Weed’s historically Black neighborhood.
“People living in this community, they were not 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 catastrophe,” said Florida-based Crump.
“It is our intention to be able to hear from them and see how they’re doing, how dire is the situation and what can we do to shine light on this, all the way to the highest levels of our government,” he said. “That’s a common concern for many minorities, that they won’t get equal treatment.”
While the cause of the Mill Fire remains under investigation, Crump noted that Weed had previously been hit by the Boles Fire, in 2014.
He called Lincoln Heights “a marginalized community that again is facing tragedy because the warning signs were not adhered to.”
Crump said that “as I understand it, this was completely preventable. So we certainly will talk to federal authorities to say, ‘don’t just sweep this under the rug. We want you to take a look at this. Lives were lost. People’s lives were devastated.”
As for what he’ll tell residents during tonight’s meeting, Crump said, “we want them to know that they’re not alone, that we’re standing with them.”
He said he’d tell authorities that “however you would treat citizens in the most affluent community, we want you to treat the citizens of Lincoln Heights the same way.”
The Mill Fire scorched 3,935 acres and destroyed 118 buildings before it was fully contained on Sept. 13.
Two women were killed in the blaze: 73-year-old Marilyn Hilliard and 65-year-old Lorenza Mondoc Glover, both of Weed. The blaze also injured three people, including one person who was flown to UC Davis Medical Center’s burn unit, authorities said.
On Sept. 7, Roseburg Forest Products Co. of Oregon announced it was investigating claims that a water-spraying machine used to cool ash at its veneer mill in Weed ignited the Mill Fire on Sept. 2.
More than 100 people are suing the Roseburg for losses caused by the Mill Fire, including Glover’s son. Others are suing for personal injuries, or for loss or damage of their homes or other property by the fire.
One law firm — Reiner, Slaughter, Mainzer, & Frankel — is representing 100-150 people suing Roseburg. As many as 50 of those clients lost homes, mostly in Lincoln Heights and Lake Shastina and many did not have homeowners insurance, a representative for the firm said.
Crump said he would be meeting with Blenda Long, of Weed, who lost her aunt in the Mill Fire. He declined to identify the aunt, saying, “I don’t want to speak to stuff I don’t know, but I know that several of her (Long’s) family members were impacted in a devastating way” by the wildfire.
At 2 p.m. on Friday, Crump was scheduled to take a walking tour of devastated parts of Lincoln Heights. People wishing to join the tour can meet at the corner of Cypress and Railroad avenues at that time.
A century ago, the Black community in Weed numbered more than 1,000 of the town’s 6,000 residents, according to Blackpast.org. Black people came to the area to find jobs in the lumber industry. By the 1970s, that number dwindled to 500, although the town’s overall population dropped to 3,600 by then.
As of 2020, 11.5% of Weed’s population was Black, compared to 12.4% of United States residents, according to Census.gov.
For more information about the town hall meeting, call the church at 530-938-1731.
Jessica Skropanic and Michele Chandler write for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network.To support and sustain their work, please subscribe today. Thank you.