A lawsuit filed in Placer County Superior Court alleges that the Mosquito Fire was “caused by a defect or a malfunction” of PG&E power lines.
The Mosquito Fire burned 76,788 acres of land in Placer and El Dorado counties from September 6, 2022 to October 22, 2022. The fire destroyed 78 buildings and caused over 11,000 people to be evacuated. The suppression cost of the fire was $181.1 million. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but the possible role of PG&E’s equipment is the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Forest Service.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Placer County Water Agency. The fire, according to the complaint, damaged the agency’s property and electrical facilities, caused the agency to evacuate its facilities, and prevented the agency from supplying California’s power grid with hydroelectric power.
Lawsuit Claims PG&E Had Duty To Ensure Its Power Lines Were Safe
The lawsuit argues that PG&E had a duty to make sure its electrical equipment didn’t harm, threaten or injure the public by ensuring its equipment was always safe and well-maintained, making sure its employees were supervised and trained properly so they could make sure the equipment was operated safely, and de-energizing its power lines after a fire ignites or during high fire risk conditions.
The complaint notes that in January 2014, Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency, directing officials with the state to take action in order to mitigate drought conditions. The complaint also notes that in June 2014, California’s Public Utilities Commission issued a resolution directing utilities such as PG&E to take action to reduce the risk of fires being started by or causing a threat to utilities.
The complaint notes that PG&E was obligated to comply with several statutes and regulations, including:
- Public Resource Code section 4292 (utility pole firebreak)
- Public Resource Code section 4293 (clearance requirements regarding power lines and conductors)
- Public Resource Code section 4435 (Causing a fire via negligence)
- Public Utilities Code section 451 (Obligation to minimize risk of wildfires being started by power lines, and mitigation plans regarding wildfires)
- Public Utilities Code section 8386 (Obligation to minimize risk of wildfires being started by power lines, and mitigation plans regarding wildfires)
- Code of Civil Procedure section 733 (Damage to trees and timber)
- CPUC General Order 95 (Clearance from power lines)
- CPUC General Order 165 (Inspection cycles regarding facilities that distribute electricity)
The complaint notes that in April 2021, the utility was placed into Enhanced Oversight by the CPUC because it hadn’t made enough progress towards making its business safe, and because of this, the complaint argues PG&E should have been “keenly aware” of its duty to work towards wildfire prevention and the protection of public safety.
The complaint argues PG&E can ensure its power equipment is safe by:
- Undergrounding power equipment in areas prone to wildfires
- Doing more inspections
- Creating protocols for the shutdown of equipment during emergencies
- Modernizing its infrastructure
- Prioritizing the power lines that present the greatest wildfire risk for investments in safety
The complaint argues that PG&E knew that failing to comply with the above would be negligent and create a wildfire risk.
Lawsuit Alleges PG&E’s Negligence Caused The Mosquito Fire
The lawsuit claims the Mosquito Fire was started due to the negligence of PG&E. Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care in order to prevent harm from occurring.
The lawsuit argues that PG&E was negligent because they failed to properly and timely maintain, monitor, inspect and manage its electrical equipment as well as the vegetation next to it in order to make sure vegetation did not contact the power lines in a manner which would lead to a wildfire.
The lawsuit also argues that PG&E violated multiple statutes and regulations, including the statutes and regulations noted above.
Complaint Notes Long History Of PG&E Causing Wildfires Via Negligence
The complaint alleges that PG&E has caused numerous wildfires via negligence:
- Trauner Fire: The Trauner Fire burned through 500 acres in Nevada County in 1994, destroying homes and a schoolhouse. PG&E was convicted of criminal negligence after it was found that the fire started when a branch from a tree PG&E was supposed to have trimmed contacted a power line.
- Pendola Fire: The Pendola Fire burned over 11,000 acres in Plumas and Tahoe national forests in 1999, and the government claimed PG&E caused the fire because the fire started when a rotten tree that PG&E should have removed fell on a power line.
- Butte Fire: The Butte Fire burned over 70,000 acres, destroyed over 900 structures and killed two people in 2015. A judge ruled in 2017 that PG&E caused the fire and was liable for property damage that the fire caused.
- Camp Fire: The Camp Fire burned more than 153,000 acres of land, killed at least 85 people and destroyed thousands of buildings in 2018. PG&E pled guilty to causing the fire, and pled guilty to 84 involuntary manslaughter counts.
- Kincade Fire: The Kincade Fire burned more than 77,000 acres of land, destroying 374 buildings in 2019. Investigators found the fire started when a worn jumper cable failed, and PG&E was penalized $125 million for this.
- Dixie Fire: The Dixie Fire burned more than 963,000 acres of land, destroying 1,329 buildings in 2021. CAL FIRE determined the cause of the fire was a tree contacting PG&E power lines.