Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel has filed lawsuits in California courts alleging that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has caused the Dixie Fire. Those who suffered property damage, injuries, loss of life, or other financial harm can demand justice through civil action.
The Dixie Fire is now the second-largest wildfire in California’s history and the largest with a single point of origin. While we know where the fire’s point of origin, PG&E is disputing the cause.. As of September 21, 2021, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is still investigating.
Evidence however indicates that a PG&E utility pole with blown fuses played a role in starting the fire. According to testimony offered to a federal judge, a responder sent to check the issue found a Douglas fir down on this line with a fire at its base.
Recovering Compensation After a Wildfire
All too often, a wildfire’s cause leaves little option for landowners and families to pursue compensation. Lightning causes many fires, and individuals who accidentally start fires do not often have the assets to pay each victim.
When however the at-fault party is a large utility company, the story is different. If, as is the case with the Dixie Fire, there is growing evidence to prove that PG&E started a fire, Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel can seek compensation from the at-fault entity for the losses our clients sustained. PG&E is the state’s largest utility provider and serves almost all of northern and central California.
According to The Sacramento Bee, there are already several lawsuits related to the Dixie Fire in Shasta County Superior Court and San Francisco Superior Court.
These cases allege “PG&E negligently, recklessly, and wantonly failed to maintain and operate the electrical equipment in its utility infrastructure.”
On behalf of our clients harmed by the Dixie Fire, Reiner, Slaughter& Frankel have also filed lawsuits in:
- Plumas County Superior Court
- San Francisco Superior Court
These lawsuits cite the negligent corporate culture within PG&E that allowed profits to take priority over community safety and service. The lawsuits state that PG&E ignored reports and failed to maintain effective vegetation and infrastructure management, and due to their inaction, this led to the fires.
According to KPIX5 (CBS SF), these lawsuits allege:
- The Dixie Fire occurred because PG&E used exposed power lines in dry, vegetated areas.
- The company acted negligently in maintaining its equipment, infrastructure, and the nearby vegetation.
- The PG&E troubleshooter did not cut the power to the lines in question immediately, and instead took several hours to reach the area.
The lawsuits seek financial recovery for the plaintiffs, which include more than 200 homeowners, renters, ranchers, business owners, and others who live and own property in the affected area.
Possible Financial Recovery in a Wildfire Lawsuit
As of September 21, 2021, the Dixie Fire continues to burn. The fire has already destroyed almost 1 million acres. More than 1,300 structures suffered destruction or significant damage. Evacuation orders forced thousands of people from their homes, businesses, and other property.
People who have been affected by preventable fires may file claims for compensation that include losses related to:
- Property damage or destruction, including homes and businesses
- Damage or loss of equipment
- Business disruption because the owner/operator had to evacuate
- Lost income
- Personal injury
- Wrongful death of a loved one
- Emotional distress
- Living expenses, such as hotel and meal costs
If you pursue this type of claim, we will work with you to help you document your range of costs and losses related to the Dixie Fire, your evacuation, and more. We are familiar with these cases understand the damages experienced and how to value our clients’ financial and intangible losses.
Why Are Property Owners Blaming PG&E for the Dixie Fire?
Details of a September 13 court hearing outline one possible scenario into what started the Dixie Fire. According to local news outlet KQED, U.S. District Judge William Alsup questioned the equipment troubleshooter PG&E sent to check on the July 13 outage. The judge asked the troubleshooter at length about what happened that day. Judge Alsup oversees PG&E’s criminal probation linked to a deadly 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno.
Despite learning of an issue at Cresta Dam near the Butte-Plumas County border around 7 a.m., the troubleshooter allegedly did not reach the spot where he saw two blown fuses through his binoculars until after 4 p.m. The lawsuits already underway claim this allowed a tree on the high-voltage distribution line time to ignite and the fire to spread.
KQED quoted the judge: “How come it took so long to get somebody there, and once they were there, why wasn’t it the smart thing to do to turn that power off?”
The troubleshooter testified that there were several reasons behind this:
- He could not see a tree on the line through his binoculars.
- He determined there was no hazard.
- He had to drive several hours on a one-way, unpaved road to approach the site.
- Bridge construction caused a further delay.
According to media reports, the troubleshooter only became aware of a concern when he arrived in the area of the blown fuses. He saw a large, green Douglas fir on the line with a fire under it. He testified that at the time, the fire was between 600 and 800 square feet.
Having a poor radio signal, he tried to use the tools he had with him to fight the fire until he could contact his supervisor, who summoned Cal Fire crews.
PG&E Has a History of Being Blamed for Damaging and Deadly Blazes
The Dixie Fire is not the first—nor the last—victims, the courts, and others have linked to PG&E. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, there are allegations that PG&E equipment possibly ignited the Fly Fire on July 22, nine days after the Dixie Fire. These two fires merged a few days later.
According to National Public Radio (NPR), the company also agreed to pay out $13.5 billion for uninsured losses related to the 2018 Camp Fire, which burned the city of Paradise and became the deadliest wildfire in California history.
The settlement also includes losses from:
- The Tubbs Fire (2017)
- The Ghost Ship Fire (2016)
- The Butte Fire (2015)
As a part of this agreement, the utility giant also:
- Changed its board of directors
- Updated operational structure to focus on wildfire safety
- Pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the Camp Fire
In addition, in their March 2020 quarterly report to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, PG&E informed investors and other interested parties that the company could face additional major payouts related to wildfires, including more than $600 million from:
- The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County (2019)
- The Zogg Fire in Shasta County (2020)
According to the lawsuits, this alleged history shows a disregard for fire safety and the well-being of their customers and others living in the areas they serve.
About the Dixie Fire
As of September 21, 2021, Cal Fire has the Dixie Fire 90 percent contained, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. More than 963,276 acres have burned, with this number possibly reaching one million before they fully contain the blaze.
The Dixie Fire started on July 13, 2021. Its origin was in Feather River Canyon, near Cresta Powerhouse and Lake Almanor.
Areas the blaze has affected include:
- Plumas National Forest
- Lassen National Forest
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Five counties: Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta, and Tehama
While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, numerous other factors combined to make it one of the worst on record, causing “very active fire behavior.”
- The drought
- Hot weather
- Strong winds
- Dry vegetation
In his September 13 hearing with the PG&E troubleshooter, Judge Alsup noted that PG&E recognized the area where the Dixie Fire originated as one of the most dangerous circuits for a possible fire. The difficulty reaching the site, dry vegetation, steep terrain, and winds in the canyon create the possibility of quick-moving flames if ignition occurs.
KRCR TV reported that PG&E CEO Patricia Poppe promised the utility would move 10,000 miles of power lines underground to prevent similar incidents in the future. This includes those in Feather River Canyon. However, this will take time, and many other permitting and regulatory agencies will likely need to be involved.
How Many People Suffered Damages in the Dixie Fire?
It is too early to know exactly how many people endured losses related to the Dixie Fire. Many areas remain inaccessible because the fire is still burning, or other problems are delaying damage assessment.
As of September 13, CBS13 in Sacramento reported 1,329 structures destroyed. This includes:
- Residential: Houses, apartments, condos, and other structures
- Businesses: Stores, restaurants, ranches, and farms
- Public spaces: Libraries, community centers, police departments, firehouses
One of the hardest-hit areas was the town of Greenville, where about 1,100 people live. The community, about 150 miles north of the state’s capital, lost about 75 percent of its structures to the fire in August. In the area around Main Street and State Route 89, known as the “downtown” commercial district of the community, reporters noted that almost every business suffered catastrophic, irreparable damage.
There are also numerous firefighting agencies involved in this wildfire. A month into the fire, CNBC reported 6,000 firefighters were working the Dixie Fire alone. This was a significant number, as the U.S. Forest Service told the network that they had 21,000 federal firefighters battling blazes across the Western U.S.
As of September 21, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group reported 2,223 personnel assigned to the Dixie Fire. They hope to have the blaze fully contained by September 30.
What Can I Do If I Was a Victim of the Dixie Fire?
If you suffered losses because of the Dixie Fire, you may be able to join others in pursuing compensation from PG&E if the evidence points to the utility playing a causative role in the wildfire. Right now, you can speak with an attorney about how to possibly proceed with a Dixie Fire damage claim for free.
Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel, LLP Represents Wildfire Victims
At Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel, LLP, our team has a national reputation, but we live and work in the same Northern California we serve. Over the last 40 years, we have obtained more than $600 million for our clients, including many who sustained injuries and damages in wildfires. We have a strong reputation for managing complex, high-stakes, and high-visibility claims for our clients.
While we are proud of the national reputation we built, we know how to navigate claims best right here in our own community. Most national firms do not have the local resources or clout to serve wildfire victims in Northern and Central California effectively. During our law firm’s 40 years, we have earned the respect of local judges, police, expert witnesses, and others who could strengthen your case.
How We Can Help with a Dixie Fire Damage Claim
If PG&E caused this fire, our team can build a case on your behalf and take it before a local jury that understands what you went through. We can present evidence from people they trust in a court we are familiar with because we are there regularly.
Unlike many other firms out there, we are not a settlement mill. At Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel, our attorneys are not interested in obtaining a settlement for you just so that we can get paid and go home. We take cases to trial when necessary and fight for the justice our clients deserve based on their cases’ facts.
Speak With an Attorney From Our Office During a Complimentary Consultation
If you need help with understanding your rights and legal options following Dixie Fire damage, do not hesitate to contact Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel today. We provide a free, confidential consultation to prospective clients. We will discuss your potential case with you and outline the process that could allow you and your family to recover the compensation you need.
Our clients do not pay any attorney’s fees unless we secure a financial recovery for them. Call (530) 891-1909 today or message us through our contact page to learn more during a free case evaluation with our team.