Professor Dan Straus had a link to the past in his collection of papers from one of the world's greatest thinkers.
Straus, a chemistry professor at San Jose State University, was once the proud owner of dozens of pages of calculations and notes handwritten by Nobel Prize winning physicist Albert Einstein, our friends at the Mercury News say. But the precious works were all but destroyed in the Lick fire that consumed nearly 50,000 acres of Henry Coe Park in 2007.
Now, he wants justice for the loss of his precious archive, which he inherited from his father, renowned mathematician Ernest Straus -- a colleague of Einstein's at Princeton University. The lot had been appraised at $250,000 to $400,000 before the blaze.
Straus is suing Margaret Pavese, the woman convicted of accidentally starting the fire, for reimbursment of the collection of historic papers. The Pavese family owns 400 acres of land but Straus will have to get in line to collect what he believes is his rightful share -- the state is also suing Pavese for $16 million to recover the cost of fighting the wildfire.
Straus had taken the collection of documents, tightly sealed in a "fire safe" box, to his family's retreat in Coe Park in the spring of 2007. He had a solar-powered copier there and was going to take advantage of the area's peaceful surroundings to sort through the papers.
When he heard about the Lick fire, he was worried but waited to go to the area because he heard a radio report that said the fire was on the other side of the park. But the report turned out to be wrong.
Straus headed up to the cabin the next day but, but by the time he was allowed on his property, it was too late. He found the box containing the papers but it had cracked open, allowing the fire to incinerate the historic works.
The paper reports Straus did not lose all the copies of the historic papers. Part of the collection survived because it was safely in the hands of an expert who had examined the them the year before.
Pavese has already served community service time and paid about $40,000 to the Straus family for the loss of two small cabins and an outbuilding.