Northern California Wildfire Lawsuit Incorporates NBC Bay Area Findings

The latest in a series of lawsuits blaming Pacific Gas and Electric for the North Bay firestorm incorporates many of the findings reported by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.

“There has been an organizational failure,”said Frank Pitre, who joined a team of well-known attorneys in announcing a new round of legal suits over the firestorm that destroyed some 8,000 structures and left 43 dead.

The team’s nearly 50-page complaint details aging equipment and PG&E’s vegetation management practices as factors in the disaster – both problems first revealed by NBC Bay Area.

They also point to reclosers, the automated devices that send bursts of electricity out to test problem lines. NBC Bay Area reported that while the devices can help prevent outages, they have been blamed for fires in San Diego in 2007 and Australia in 2009. That’s because when winds cause lines to go down, the bursts of energy they send to clear faults can cause arcing and spark wildfires.

While Southern California utilities now unplugs those devices during fire season, PG&E won’t say what it did in the high winds of Oct. 8.

But Pitre appeared certain the utility left them on.

“Inconvenience, cost -- at the expense of life and property – this was their choice, not ours,” he said. “And certainly not those who were the victims of this calamity.”

The lawyers also cited a risk analysis we first reported, which shows the utility accepted that for every 1,000 miles of its system, 17 trees would hit power lines each year, sparking a “small number” of fires.

The analysis cited the need for tradeoffs amid the company’s “limited resources,” a notion that attorney Steve Campora scoffed at, given the company’s annual profits often exceed $1 billion.

Campora said that while PG&E may be willing to accept that wildfire risk, no one has asked the victims of the firestorm.

“Those are risks that are not acceptable when this is the result. Because every wildfire is a potential catastrophe.”

PG&E issued a statement that did not respond to the claims in the suit, but stressed it is “fully cooperating” with investigations by Cal Fire and the state Public Utilities Commission.

“Our primary focus has been—and continues to be—the safety and well-being of the customers and communities that have been affected,” the company said.

Contact Us