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US sues Southern California Edison for negligence in 2017 Creek Fire

With its new case against the utility, government authorities are dismissing a previous lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The United States brought a federal complaint against Southern California Edison on Wednesday, seeking more than $40 million in damages from the 2017 Creek Fire that ravaged the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County.

Among more than two dozen wildfires that tore through Southern California in December 2017, forcing about 230,000 residents from their homes and prompting then-Governor Jerry Brown Jr. to declare a state of emergency for LA and Ventura Counties, the Creek Fire was the second largest. It is unrelated to a blaze with the same name that ripped through Northern California in 2020.

After it ignited on Dec. 5, 2017, the Creek Fire spread rapidly because of the vegetation made bone dry by years of drought and because of the strong Santa Ana winds blowing through the steep canyons in the mountains north of LA. By the time it was contained, the Creek Fire had burned about 15,000 acres of land and destroyed at least 60 homes and 63 other structures. At least 55 homes and 26 structures suffered damage.

The U.S. notes that it has spent more than $40 million on restoration and rehabilitation, while also facing the "intangible environmental damages and other costs" whose value must be determined at trial.

"SCE breached its duty of care and was negligent in causing the Creek Fire, including its failure to construct, maintain, and operate its power lines and equipment in a safe and effective working order [to] prevent fires and damage to the land and property of adjacent landowners, including the United States," the complaint states.

Signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Green, the lawsuit says the Creek Fire broke out because SCE's power lines and equipment ignited the dry vegetation. The federal government had previously sued the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for damages from the Creek Fire, but documents Edison provided under subpoena in that litigation appeared to have changed the government's thinking.

The U.S. said in Wednesday's complaint that it is dropping its case against the LA Department of Water and Power in connection with the new lawsuit against Edison.

"Our thoughts remain with the people affected by the Creek Fire and we will review the case and discuss it during court proceedings," said Jeff Monford, a spokesman for Edison International, the parent company of the Southern California utility. "We remain committed to wildfire mitigation and safety through grid hardening, situational awareness and operational enhancements."

The complaint accuses Southern California Edison of negligence, violations of California's Health and Safety Code and Civil Code, violations of California's Public Resources Code, trespass by fire, and claims strict liability and indemnity pursuant to the special use permit, as well as breach of the special use permit.

The U.S. seeks damages for real and personal property, fire-suppression costs, resource damages, as well as for the costs of rehabilitation, restoration, and reforestation of the burned areas. The government also seeks double or triple damages for the wrongful injury to U.S. timber, trees and underwood, as well as interest, penalties and the costs of the lawsuit.

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Categories / Energy, Environment, Government, Regional

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