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California Utility Companies Blamed For 2007 Fires

UPDATED: February 17, 2010

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has announced that the Guejito, Witch and Rice fires in San Diego which killed several people, destroyed thousands of homes and burned countless acres of land were started by California utility companies San Diego Gas & Electric Company and Cox Communications. The companies are being charged with violating state regulations regarding power line maintenance and currently face hundreds of individual lawsuits from homeowners.

Allegations

The CPUC has made the following allegations against San Diego Gas & Electric Company and Cox Communications:

  • Improperly maintaining utility lines in violation of California state law.
  • Causing three fires in the area – the Guejito, Witch and Rice fires. The CPUC claims that the Guejito fire started when an improperly maintained Cox line came into contact with a San Diego Gas & Electric conductor, the Witch fire was caused by two of the utility’s lines coming into contact and the Rice fire began when a tree limb fell onto a utility line. Investigators said that the tree should have been trimmed.
  • Failing to cooperate with investigators who were sent to probe the wildfires

While the utility companies denied the allegations, San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre said that he plans to add the utility companies to the city’s lawsuit which seeks $40 million in property damage and firefighting costs.

Other lawsuits likely

The utility companies face hundreds of separate lawsuits from home and business owners who suffered property damage due to the fires. It is likely that additional lawsuits will be filed against the utilities if they are found to have been negligent in maintaining the power lines.

Future steps?

Many Californians believe that power lines should be buried instead of attached to poles – especially after the types of damage being attributed to the utility companies. However, to do so would be very expensive and the plan seems to have just as many critics as it does proponents.

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