A man who lost valuable letters from Albert Einstein in a wildfire at Henry W. Coe State Park four years ago was awarded $750,000 in damages in civil court.
Dan Straus, a chemistry professor who filed the suit in August 2008, Wednesday said he would trade in the money for the papers, but is happy he can finally move on.
"I'll never have the papers back," Straus said. "If I could have what was burned, versus the settlement, I'd have the papers. What it means to me now is maybe I can stop thinking about it so much."
The letters contained mathematical formulas that Einstein had written to Straus' father, Ernst, a friend and colleague of Einstein's at Princeton University. All that remains from the collection of Einstein's papers is a poem that Einstein wrote to Straus' parents 11 days after Straus was born and which was given to him when he was young.
It was the only document that Straus had kept at home at the time. The rest Straus had stored in a fire-resistant safe inside a travel trailer at the state park, where on Sept. 3, 2007, a fast-moving fire burned down the trailer, along with the papers, two small cabins, a deck and woodshed.
In total, the Lick Fire, named after the University of California's Lick Observatory at Mt. Hamilton in Santa Clara County, burned a total of 47,760 acres and destroyed four residential units and 20 outbuildings, according to Cal Fire. It was found that Margaret Pavese had illegally lit paper plates in a burn barrel on a property owned by her husband, Lawrence, and her father-in-law, Ernest, outside the park.
On Friday, following a weeklong trial, a Santa Clara County jury held Margaret Pavese, along with her husband and father-in-law, liable for the loss of the papers. In 2009, Margaret Pavese paid Straus $40,000 for the loss of his cabins, deck and woodshed.
Straus said he plans to use some of the money to pay his legal fees and the college expenses for a woman who took care of his mother before she died. He said he would share the rest with his 21-year-old niece, Emily, a hairdresser in Wichita, Kan., and his 18-year-old nephew, Ben, an art student in Santa Rosa.