OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Family members of victims of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire sued Pacific Gas & Electric on Tuesday, accusing it of failing to monitor the dangerous flow of electricity to the building they blame for causing the deadly fire in December.
The mass complaint against PG&E et al. in Alameda County Superior Court is the latest addition to a list of 20 defendants and growing the families blame for the fire that killed 36 people at an electronic dance party.
The led defendant in the new complaint is the building owner, Chor Nar Siu Ng. Also sued are its master tenants, Derick Almena and Micah Allison, a married couple who illegally rented space in the warehouse to residents of the Satya Yuga artist’s collective, and several people who threw the concert the night the fire broke out. Several families of victims have already sued them in individual complaints.
The new complaint accuses PG&E, one of the state’s largest utilities, of acting negligently by failing to install separate electrical meters on the Ghost Ship and the buildings next to it, as required by state regulations. It also claims PG&E failed to adequately monitor the flow of power to the buildings through the single meter that had been installed.
Investigators have yet to identify the cause of the fire, but the plaintiffs in the 58-page lawsuit blame overloaded electrical lines at the back of the warehouse.
PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said in an email Tuesday that PG&E was not aware of anything amiss at the Ghost Ship.
“We’ve reviewed our records and over the last 10-plus years, we have no reports of electric theft or any other anomalies from this location or the adjacent premises,” Sarkissian wrote. “We’re fully cooperating with authorities as they investigate this tragic event.”
But the plaintiffs say that had PG&E inspected the meter, “as a reasonably prudent utility would have, they would have observed and identified the hazardous and out-of-code conditions within the electrical distribution system which led to the deadly fire.” This would have triggered an inspection and a fix before the fire could happen, the plaintiffs say.
They also sued, for the first time, Benjamin Cannon, an unlicensed contractor whom Almena hired in 2014 to do electrical work on the building after a transformer fire. In an invoice to the building owner, Ng, Cannon said the fire had likely been caused by “catastrophically overloading” the power system, according to the complaint.
Cannon charged Ng for $32,000 in unpermitted electrical work to replace the burnt-out transformer and recommended $15,000 in electrical upgrades to “get the whole building into a safe state,” the complaint states.
He also told Ng that the building needed a second transformer to replace one that had survived the fire but was “too small for the loads on it as well.” It was never installed, according to the complaint.
The 10,000-square-foot building had only two escape routes: a makeshift stairway at the front made of pallets and scrap wood, and a staircase at the back that was hidden behind a stage.
There were no sprinklers, fire alarms or fire extinguishers, and no emergency exits, according to the complaint.
The Ghost Ship’s power was supplied from an auto shop next door via a cable snaked through a hole in the wall, and extension cords and cables were strewn around the building.
“There were often sparks from the electrical system that smelled and circuit breakers blew out often,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs are represented by Mary Alexander, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.