Thousands of residents of Napa and Sonoma Counties lost homes, business, other property or were injuries by the wildfire outbreak of October 8 and 9. The wildfires also greatly affected Mendocino, Butte, Lake, Solano, Yuba and Nevada Counties.
If you affected by the wildfires you may be eligible for compensation. Contact us for a free, confidential consultation.
The Northern California Wildfire Outbreak of October 8-9 caused 42 deaths, and over 500 injuries. The hardest hit areas were Sonoma County with 22 deaths, Napa County with 7 deaths, Mendocino County with 8 deaths and Yuba County with 4. At its peak, the Northern California wildfire outbreak encompassed 21 major wildfires that have burned over 245,000 acres. The wildfires destroyed over 8,300 structures including more than 6,000 homes, countless commercial properties and wineries. Most of the homes destroyed were in Napa and Sonoma Counties and are attributed to the Tubbs and Nuns/Adobe fires which destroyed almost 7,000 structures and over 5,000 homes alone. Insurance estimates of the losses are in the billions.
The largest and most damaging fires burned for almost three weeks before they were fully contained. Over 100,000 Californians were forced to evacuate the wildfires. The process of rebuilding or repairing damages to homes, businesses, personal property as well as landscaping and trees is long and arduous. While many people will have some insurance coverage, most will find the coverage is inadequate to compensate for all losses.
If you were injured or suffered damages from the fires, you have a legal right to seek compensation from any persons or entities found to be responsible for causing these fires. Find out more by contacting us through this site or calling 1-800-736-9085.
PG&E’s Role in the Wildfires
CAL Fire has not yet declared the cause(s) of any of the fires that have ravaged Napa, Sonoma, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Yuba Counties. While the exact cause(s) of each of these fires has not yet known, there is strong suspicion that at least some of these fires may have been caused by falling PG&E power lines or transformers. The temporal link between the time and source location of the fires and the time and location of reports of downed power lines and transformer explosions is strong circumstantial evidence of a causal link.
The vast majority of the wildfires, especially the largest and most destructive such as the Tubbs Fire, Nuns Fire, Adobe Fire, Atlas Fire, Redwood/Potter Fire, Cascade Fire and LaPorte Fire all began during a three-hour period from 9:45 p.m. on October 8 thru 1:00 a.m. on October 9. This period coincided with a period of extremely low humidity and volatile “Diablo winds” which were gusting up to 70 miles per hour in the area.
There were also multiple reports, including 911 calls, reporting downed power lines and exploding transformers at the source location of the fires and in the moments before many of these fires ignited. Less than 10 minutes from the first 911 calls about downed power lines and transformers, the first reports of structures on fire were received.
Almost 95% of all wildfires in California are caused by humans and not nature. In many instances, it is power lines that are the cause. In fact, many of the largest and most destructive wildfires in California history were caused by utility companies negligently maintaining their power lines, including PG&E, which has a troubling history of negligent maintenance.
In 2014, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) fined PG&E a record $1.4 billion for failing to properly maintain its gas pipelines that resulted in an explosion in San Bruno, California that killed 8 people and destroyed 35 homes.
The 2015 Valley Fire, which is one of the most damaging fires in California history was linked to PG&E’s negligent maintenance. The Valley Fire destroyed almost 2,000 structures in Lake County.
In 2017, PG&E was fined $8 million by the PUC for failing to maintain a power line that caused the 2015 Butte Fire in Amador County which killed two and destroyed 549 homes. The fire sparked when a tree that PG&E had failed to trim due to its proximity to the power lines, came into contact with the power lines and sparked a fire during a Diablo winds event.
Most of these fires occurred at the height of the dry season and when the Santa Ana or Diablo winds were blowing at a high speed. This is the period where any issues of improper maintenance or neglect are most likely to cause a fire. It is also the period during which you would expect PG&E to be most diligent regarding maintenance.
Why File a Wildfire Lawsuit?
While Cal Fire has not yet issued an official cause of the October 8-9 wildfires, there is very strong evidence that PG&E’s power lines and transformers were cause of some of these fires, including the Tubbs Fire which decimated Santa Rosa destroying thousands of homes and killing 22 people.
While many wildfire victims have insurance, it is usually inadequate to completely rebuild or replace the home and real property destroyed to pre-fire condition. It is also typically inadequate to compensate victims for all of the personal property lost, not to mention the personal items which have little to none intrinsic value but which are priceless to the owners. Unfortunately, there will be many that had no insurance coverage wherein they are dependent upon FEMA aid which is usually inadequate to completely rebuild or replace the lost property.
A civil lawsuit can ensure that all your losses are replaced or repaired instead of being limited by the scope or amount of your insurance. While many people adequately insure the cost to replace or rebuild their home, the contents of the home and other personal property, as well as trees, flowers, plants and other landscaping are frequently significantly underinsured. The cost of replacing these items can greatly exceed the cost of repairing the home.
There are a number of different types of damages that are recoverable in a civil wildfire lawsuit. The wildfires caused 42 fatalities and injured over 500 others. Persons who suffered personal injury may be able to recover (1) reimbursement for medical expenses, both past and future; (2) pain and suffering damages (both past and future); and (3) lost past income due to missed work as well as any loss of future income from the fires.
For property damage, wildfire victims may recover the cost of repairing or replacing: (1) lost homes and other structures; (2) lost personal property including automobiles, furniture and pets; (3) lost trees and landscaping; (4) damaged property such as swimming pools, retaining walls and fences; and (5) erosion damage.
Reimbursement for evacuation and temporary displacement damages can also be sought. Wildfire victims may also seek compensation for any emotional or psychological damages from the fires such as mental anguish, emotional distress and inconvenience and annoyance.
The costs to replace or repair property destroyed or damaged by wildfires has been steadily increasing as are the costs to taxpayers to fight these fires. From fiscal years 2002-03 thru 2006-07, annual fire suppression costs averaged $176 million, for the following five-year period (2007-08 thru 2011-12), annual fire suppression costs averaged $305 million, and for the most recent five-year period (2012-13 thru 2016-17) the annual fire suppression costs increased to an average of $413 million.
The spike in these costs is expected to continue to rise as the price of homes in California continue to increase, the continued suburban sprawl to areas prone to wildfires and the potential impact of climate change to create ideal conditions for fast-moving, destructive wildfires.
The costs associated with these wildfires in terms of human lives lost, homes and business burned but also the financial costs to fight these fires as well as repair the immense damage they cause, demands that we should take every feasible step to minimize these fires. This includes ensuring the various utility companies in this State properly service and maintain their power lines, power poles and transformers as well as designing these devices in safest manner possible. This is particularly important during the times of year when Southern California experiences the Santa Ana winds and Northern California, the Diablo winds.
It is only fair that the party or parties responsible for these horrific wildfires pays for the damages they have caused. The victims of these fires and the taxpayers in general should not bear the cost which will easily exceed $1 billion. And this does not include the 42 fatalities whose loss cannot be measured.
These civil liabilities should also deter PG&E, as well as other utility companies, from continuing to improperly maintain their power lines and other equipment. By making the cost of not maintaining the power lines greater than the cost of providing proper maintenance will PG&E and other utilities ensure proper maintenance.