Power Company Faces Claim Over West LA Wildfire

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Large hillside mansions and over 700 acres of land in west Los Angeles burned this past month when a eucalyptus branch fell on a power line. It could have been prevented, according to a claim filed Monday with LA’s electric utility.

Firefighters try to save a home on Tigertail Road from the Getty fire on Oct. 28, 2019, in Los Angeles, Calif. (AP Photo/ Christian Monterrosa)

Fire officials say high winds knocked a branch onto a high-voltage power line that sparked a fire near the Getty Center art museum and campus on Oct. 28. That wildfire sent thousands from their homes.

But the owner of one of the hillside homes that was destroyed says the fire was preventable if the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had a plan in place to maintain its electrical equipment and surrounding brush. That owner, BW Partners II, filed a government claim with LADWP and the city Monday.

In addition to the property damage, the owner of the 1,540-square-foot home notes schools were closed and the area saw poor air quality. The city and LADWP have 45 days to respond to the claim.

The Getty Fire swept through the hillsides north of the Sepulveda Pass near the affluent neighborhoods of Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. Strong Santa Ana winds fanned the flames and after nine days, 745 acres burned and 27 homes were either damaged or destroyed, according to fire officials.

According to the claimant, LADWP revealed in 2017 that about half of its 320,000 power poles were more than 50 years old and 21% were beyond their 60-year-lifespan. The claim also cites an internal investigation at the utility.

LADWP has faced other wildfires in the past and have not prepared for those risks, according to the property owner.

“Despite its knowledge and abundant resources and capabilities as the largest municipal utility company in the country, its infrastructure and safety practices remain in disrepair,” the claim says.

“The fire risks caused by the seasonal Santa Ana winds and their interactions with poorly managed vegetation, poorly operated equipment, and poorly maintained electrical lines are known and predictable,” according to the 16-page claim.

LADWP did not keep up the vegetation surrounding its equipment and in the last several years similar brush fires in Southern California have been sparked by similar conditions with catastrophic results, according to the claim.

“LADWP had a responsibility to ensure that its high-voltage, revenue-generating electrical equipment installed in high fire-risk areas, such as the Sepulveda Pass, does not endanger its own ratepayers and the community at large,” says the claim.

LADWP maintains 3,507 miles of long-distance, high-voltage transmission and sub-transmission lines in the Los Angeles region and should have known about the fire conditions in advance, according to the claim.

BW Partners II is represented by McNicholas & McNicholas, Frantz Law Group and Bridgford, Gleason & Artinian.

Emails to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office were not immediately answered.

In response to the allegations made in the claim, LADWP referred Courthouse News to a statement issued last month that the branch was outside the required clearance they have to comply with under state regulations.
“Based upon inspection of the location, there was no failure of electrical equipment involved,” the utility said in the statement. All wires and equipment, including the pole, remain fully intact.”
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