The Mosquito Fire ignited on September 6, 2022, near Foresthill, CA. It began around 6:27 PM near Mosquito Ridge Road. As of September 20, the fire has burned 76,290 acres of land in Placer and El Dorado counties, destroyed 78 buildings, and led to over 11,000 evacuations.
In a September 8 report sent to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) stated that “electrical activity occurred close in time to the report time of the fire.”
Given PG&E’s recent history in California, it appears that this report may signal that PG&E might ultimately be found responsible for starting the Mosquito Fire, which is just one of many recent California wildfires, including the McKinney Fire, Fairview Fire, and Mill Fire.
PG&E has been found responsible for starting numerous California wildfires in recent years, including the Dixie Fire, the Camp Fire.
The Dixie Fire
The Dixie Fire ignited on July 13, 2021, near Dixie Road in Butte County. The fire burned 963,309 acres of land in Butte, Plumas, Shasta, Tehama, and Lassen counties, destroyed 1,329 buildings, and led to tens of thousands of evacuations. PG&E gave the SEC a conservative estimate of $1.15 billion as to how much money the Dixie Fire will cost it.
CAL FIRE determined that the cause of the Dixie Fire was a tree coming into contact with PG&E power lines.
According to a report PG&E sent to regulators, the fire was first noticed by a PG&E troubleman, who saw a tree leaning on PG&E power lines, blown fuses, and a ground fire underneath the tree.
The troubleman told a dispatcher, according to ABC 10, “There’s a tree on a line that started a fire… it fell, fell into the line.”
Cresta Dam Power Outage
According to a complaint filed in Plumas Superior Court, a power outage happened at Cresta Dam around 6:48 AM on July 13, 2021, and PG&E “did not consider the outage a high-priority issue.” The complaint claims that “this non-emergency request meant that an employee needed only address the issue sometime that day, and the situation was not urgent.”
The PG&E troubleman wasn’t dispatched to Cresta Dam until around 10:47 AM that day, according to the complaint, which claims he stopped and addressed another non-emergency issue along the way. The troubleman arrived at the dam at around 12:30 PM, over five hours after the outage occurred, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, the troubleman “saw a fuse hanging down from a pole on the circuit” once he arrived at the dam, yet “waited more than three hours to travel to the pole” before arriving at around 4:40 PM when he first noticed the fire.
The Plumas Superior Court Complaint
The complaint argues that PG&E knew that vegetation coming into contact with its power lines presented a significant wildfire risk. Due to extreme drought conditions in California, the resulting wildfire would probably cause deaths, as well as significant property damage.
However, the complaint claims that PG&E failed to take reasonable action to prevent vegetation from coming into contact with its power lines, leading to the Dixie Fire.
In arguing that PG&E knew about the risk of vegetation starting wildfires by contacting its power lines, the complaint claims that the area in and around where the Dixie Fire started was considered by the CPUC in May 2016 as having “the highest level of elevated hazard” for the potential for wildfires being started by power lines.
The complaint claims that PG&E has “a virtual monopoly” on electric and gas services in Central and Northern California, but instead of spending money it gets from customers and government funding on properly maintaining its equipment and the vegetation around it, “PG&E funnels this funding to boost its own corporate profits and compensation.”
The complaint alleges that PG&E’s negligence was responsible for the Dixie Fire because PG&E:
- Didn’t comply with various regulations, standards, and statutes
- Didn’t properly and timely inspect and maintain its equipment and the vegetation around it
- Didn’t properly prune, trim, cut or otherwise keep vegetation from contacting its power lines
- Didn’t make its power lines safe
According to PG&E, the last tree work that had been done near the ignition point of and prior to the ignition of the Dixie Fire was done in June 2019, over two years prior to the start of the fire. According to PG&E, the section of power lines that started the Dixie Fire had been ranked:
- 11th out of 3,635 sections of circuits with the potential for equipment failure
- 568th out of 3,074 sections of circuits with the potential of vegetation contacting power lines
The Judge’s Opinion
On August 18, 2021, U.S. District Judge William Alsup stated that it “does not add up” that the power outage at Cresta Dam was recorded at 6:48 AM, yet when the fire was spotted by the PG&E troubleman around 4:40 PM, the fire had only burned a mere 600 to 800 square feet of land.
Alsup noted that the fire wasn’t spotted until the troubleman’s arrival, asking if the troubleman did anything to start the fire. Alsup asked if the troubleman attempted a fuse replacement while the tree leaned on power lines and the circuit had a good load, possibly causing a fire via electrical arcing by doing so.
The Camp Fire
The Camp Fire ignited on November 8, 2018, in Butte County. The fire burned 153,336 acres of land, destroyed 18,804 buildings, killed 85 people, destroyed the town of Paradise, and led to the evacuation of around 52,000 people. The cost of the Camp Fire has been estimated at $16.65 billion.
CAL FIRE determined that power lines owned and operated by PG&E were the cause of the Camp Fire. CAL FIRE also determined that a second fire, which eventually merged with the Camp Fire, was started when vegetation contacted PG&E power lines.
PG&E made a $13.5 billion settlement offer for wildfire victims on December 6, 2019, and, on June 16, 2020, the utility entered a guilty plea regarding 84 involuntary manslaughter counts.
PG&E Investigates “Problems With Sparks”
According to a complaint filed in Butte County Superior Court, PG&E emailed someone who owned property near the ignition point of the Camp Fire on November 7, 2018, one day before the fire started. The email told the property owner that PG&E would need to access its equipment on her land because the utility was “having problems with sparks.”
The next morning, around 6:15 AM, PG&E reported that power was down in the same area, and the Camp Fire was reported at 6:33 AM that same morning.
PG&E patrolled the area via air later in the day, observing some damage to a transmission tower near the Camp Fire. According to the complaint, five transmission towers in the area had been damaged by wind in 2012, requiring replacement.
One of the first firefighters to arrive at the scene of the fire, according to the complaint, described the fire as having “really good wind on it.”
PG&E’s Knowledge of Weather Conditions
According to the complaint, PG&E knew that weather conditions in the area posed an extreme fire danger, notifying customers in Butte County on November 6, 2018, that low humidity and high winds may force it to shut down power.
PG&E sent an additional 17 warnings out over the following two days, saying it would shut off power during the morning of November 8 because it was expecting sustained winds of 20-30 miles per hour and gusts of 40-50 miles per hour.
However, according to the complaint, PG&E tweeted, at 7:56 AM on November 8, over an hour after the ignition of the Camp Fire, that it “may” be shutting off power in Butte County.
Then, at 3:14 PM, according to the complaint, PG&E tweeted that it would not be shutting off power in Butte County “as weather conditions did not warrant this safety measure.”
Was a Public Safety Power Shutoff Warranted?
However, the complaint claims that while PG&E did not feel the conditions warranted a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), PG&E’s following factors for determining when a PSPS is warranted were actually met by the conditions present when and where the Camp Fire started:
- Extreme threat level regarding fire
- A National Weather Service Red Flag Warning
- Humidity under 20 percent
- Sustained winds over 25 miles per hour
- Gusts of wind over 45 miles per hour
- Extremely dry vegetation
According to the complaint, PG&E claimed that its PSPS factors only relate to power lines that are 70kV or under. However, according to the complaint, other utilities include long-distance transmission lines in their protocols for de-energization.
The complaint argues that one factor that may have led to the Camp Fire was that PG&E uses “reclosers,” which are circuit breakers that automatically re-energize power lines after faults occur. While these devices can prevent blackouts, the automatic re-energization of a power line when vegetation contacts the line can result in a fire.
Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Company have reprogrammed their systems during fire season to make sure reclosers don’t start fires. The complaint alleges that the Camp Fire was ignited due to PG&E’s negligence in:
- Not complying with professional, regulatory, or statutory standards of care
- Not properly and timely monitoring, inspecting, managing, or maintaining its power lines and the vegetation around them
- Not pruning, trimming, cutting, or otherwise keeping vegetation far enough away from power lines
- Not pruning or trimming vegetation so as to avoid a safety hazard
- Not making its overhead lines safe
- Not inspecting or repairing its power lines adequately or frequently enough
- Not maintaining its power lines in a way that avoids wildfire risks
- Not making sure that properly maintained equipment existed that could prevent its power lines from starting fires
- Not keeping its equipment in a safe condition
- Not de-energizing its power lines during conditions that posed a wildfire risk
- Not de-energizing power lines after the Camp Fire ignited
- Not properly supervising and training those responsible for inspecting and maintaining power lines and the vegetation surrounding them
Mosquito Fire Lawsuits
The Dixie Fire, Camp Fire all prompted multiple lawsuits against PG&E that sought to recover financial compensation for damages caused by the fires. They allege that PG&E was responsible for starting the fires because of its failure to adequately maintain its equipment and adjacent vegetation.
If the Mosquito Fire is eventually found to have been started by PG&E’s power lines, it is inevitable that it, too, will prompt multiple lawsuits seeking to hold PG&E accountable for the fire.
California utilities such as PG&E are financially liable for any damages caused by wildfires that are the result of their negligence and are also financially liable under the concept of inverse condemnation for any property damage caused by wildfires they started.
If you are a victim of the Mosquito Fire, you may eventually qualify for financial compensation for evacuation costs, property damage, medical bills, and more in a lawsuit against PG&E.
Contact the California Wildfire Lawyers at Nadrich & Cohen
Nadrich & Cohen has been representing California wildfire victims—including victims of the Dixie, Camp —for years and has the experience and expertise necessary to maximize your recovery in a potential Mosquito Fire lawsuit.
Call us, text us from this page, or contact us online today for a free consultation. The only fee we charge is a percentage of any compensation we obtain for you. We won’t charge a fee if we don’t recover compensation for you.