The December 2017 Thomas Fire caused massive damage in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, destroying 280,000 acres and over 1,000 homes and business while becoming the largest wildfire in California history, in terms of acreage burned, and the seventh most destructive, in terms of structures destroyed. Tens of thousands of people were affected from the loss of real and personal property to being forced to evacuate their homes.
At the end of what was already the most catastrophic wildfire year in modern California history came the Thomas Fire which, after burning through 280,000 acres of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties had the ignominy of being the largest wildfire in modern history.
October, which is usually the peak and end of California’s wildfire season, saw Northern California hit with a series of wildfires that killed 44 people, destroyed 8,000 residences and caused more than $9 billion in insured losses. Unfortunately, this was not the last of destructive wildfires in 2017. On December 4, after a late episode of Santa Ana winds brought extremely dry and windy conditions to Southern California, the Thomas Fire erupted in Ventura County. Well into January the fire, while mostly contained, is still burning. To date, the Thomas Fire burned over 280,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, destroying over 1,000 homes and businesses along the way.
The Thomas Fire saw the mobilization of over 8,500 firefighters to fight it, the largest mobilization to combat a wildfire in California history. The fire became so large and powerful that it generated its own weather, a so-called “firestorm.”
It began at 6:26 p.m. on December 4 just north of Santa Paula near Thomas Aquinas College in Ventura County. Shortly thereafter, a fire was sparked at a second location about four miles away near Upper Ojai. Eyewitnesses state the second fire was started by an explosion in the power lines. Over the following two weeks the Thomas Fire burned through various communities in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties with the Cities of Ventura, Santa Paula, Ojai and Montecito suffering the heaviest losses of property.
SOCAL EDISON’S ROLE
Many of the largest and most destructive wildfires in California history were caused by utility companies negligently maintaining their power lines, including SoCal Edison which is the utility providing power to the Thomas Fire area. Eyewitness reports note that the cause of the fire at the second location of the Thomas Fire was sparked by exploding power lines. And SoCal Edison has publicly admitted they are under investigation for its role in the either causing or exacerbating the fire.
California utilities have an unfortunate history of causing destructive wildfires or other destruction due to improper maintenance.
In 2007, power lines from SDG&E were found to be the cause of the massive Witch Creek/Guejito Wildfires in San Diego county which killed two and destroyed over 2,000 homes and businesses. Ultimately, SDG&E paid over $2 billion in settlements to compensate individuals for these losses.
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.
WHY FILE A WILDFIRE LAWSUIT?
While Cal Fire has not yet issued an official cause of the Thomas Fire, there is strong evidence that SoCal Edison’s power lines and transformers were cause of at least one of the sources of the fire.
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. 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.
If you or a family member suffered losses from the Thomas Fire, you may call our experienced wildfire lawyers today for a free legal consultation regarding your rights. Call 1-800-736-9085 or submit our confidential online form.