Cal Fire Sues Utility to Recoup Tenaja Fire Costs

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has filed suit against Southern California Edison to recoup its costs in battling the Tenaja fire in 2019. The fire burned approximately 1,939 acres in Murrieta, California.

The fire began September 4, 2019 and took ten days to contain. Quoting from the complaint:

  • On information and belief, on September 4, 2019, the temperature at the Site at or around the time the Tenaja fire started was between 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and winds were reported to be in the 20-25 mile per hour range.
  • On information and belief, on September 4, 2019, SCE’s power lines touched or became close enough to cause an arc.
  • An arc event occurred due to SCE’s power lines’ being sufficiently close in proximity to each other, which resulted in molten metal particles and/or sparks being ejected onto the dry vegetation. …
  • Defendants’ electrical equipment failed and started the Tenaja fire because defendants failed to properly design, install, operate, inspect, and/or maintain their electrical power lines and/or associated devices, poles, and equipment.
  • Defendants’ failures resulted in their Lines and/or Equipment coming into sufficiently close proximity to one another to cause an electrical arc.
  • The resultant arcing caused by defendants’ Lines and Equipment ejected molten metal particles or sparks into adjacent receptive fuel beds of dry vegetation.
  • Health and Safety Code sections 13009 and 13009.1 authorize CAL FIRE to recover its fire suppression costs associated with putting out the fire, along with investigation, administrative, accounting, and collection costs, when a defendant negligently, or in violation of law, sets a fire or allows a fire to be set.
  • CAL FIRE is also entitled to recover expert fees, reasonable attorney fees, and costs pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.8.
  • Finally, CAL FIRE is also entitled to pre-judgment interest pursuant to Civil Code section 3287.
  • Consequently, CAL FIRE seeks those amounts against the defendants named herein.

The complaint does not state a demand amount, but indicated that when Cal Fire presented Southern California Edison a demand letter, they failed to respond. Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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