The wildfires that burned across the California Wine Country in October 2017 have become one of the worst disasters in California history. 44 people are dead; more than 150,000 acres have been burned; and more than 14,700 homes, 728 businesses, and 3,600 vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Over half a dozen fires burned in eight counties—including the Atlas and Nuns fires in Napa County, the Tubbs fire in Sonoma County, the Redwood fire in Mendocino County, the Cherokee fire in Butte County, and the Lobo Fire in Nevada County. As devastated communities begin the rebuilding process, recent reports suggest that this disaster had a man-made cause. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (“PG&E”) could be liable to property owners for the catastrophic damage.
Reports Show Trees Fell on PG&E Power Lines
While the origin of the fires remains under investigation, preliminary investigation shows that vegetation and trees coming into contact with power lines was likely the cause of the fires. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (“PG&E”) reported at least 17 “electric safety incidents” across eight counties the night the wildfires started. Around the time the fires started, emergency dispatchers in Sonoma County received multiple calls about power lines falling down and electrical transformers exploding. Over a 90-minute period, fire crews were sent to at least 10 different locations in response to 911 reports of sparking wires and other electrical grid issues.
These reports suggest that PG&E, the San Francisco-based utility that services most of Northern California, did not do enough to clear vegetation and trim trees around power lines. Vegetation growth was particularly heavy in Northern California because of heavy rains in the Spring of 2017. In addition, the preceding years of drought had left trees near power lines weakened, fragile, and prone to break or topple in high winds. Utilities are responsible for cutting back trees from power lines to reduce fire risk. If PG&E failed to do so, it is easily foreseeable that strong winds and high temperatures could lead to dangerous fires.
Caddell & Chapman Pursuing Class Action Lawsuit
On October 25, 2017, Caddell & Chapman filed a class action lawsuit in Napa County Superior Court on behalf of victims of the Atlas Peak fire. Caddell & Chapman is consulting with cause and origin fire experts to continue to investigate what caused this disaster and what remedies may be available to persons affected by the wildfires. If you have any relevant information, or if you suffered an injury or had your property damaged in the fire and would like to discuss your options with an attorney, please contact Amy Tabor at 713-751-0400 for a free consultation or send us an email using the contact form above. If we take your case, you will not be responsible for any fees or expenses unless we make a recovery on your behalf.
California state law requires PG&E to properly maintain its equipment and makes PG&E liable for injuries caused by its failure to do so. PG&E and other large utilities in California have a long history of being found responsible for major wildfires caused by inadequate maintenance of their power lines. In April, the State Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $8.3 million for failing to maintain a power line that caused a fire in Amador County in September 2015. More than 1,000 lawsuits and claims are still pending against the utility. In 1994, PG&E was found guilty of 739 counts of negligence and fined nearly $30 million by state regulators when trees near power lines caused a fire that destroyed 12 homes in the Sierra Foothills. Afterward, prosecutors found that PG&E had diverted nearly $80 million from its tree-cutting programs into profits. Caddell & Chapman is committed to pursuing all the facts to determine the cause of these fires.