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Orange County Sues T-Mobile, SoCal Edison Over Wildfires

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Orange County Sues T-Mobile, SoCal Edison Over Wildfires

Firefighters work on extinguishing the Coastal Fire in Aliso Viejo, Calif., on May 11, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Carol Cassis

Carol Cassis

10/5/2023

Updated: 10/5/2023

Orange County filed two lawsuits Oct. 2 against Southern California Edison alleging the company acted negligently in maintaining its equipment, which in turn caused the ignitions of two wildfires causing acres of damage and massive evacuations in the region.
One suit, filed against Edison and T-Mobile, alleges the Silverado fire in October 2020 was caused by one of T-Mobile’s wires falling onto one of Edison’s conductors.
The other suit, which was filed solely against Edison, alleges that the May 2022 Coastal fire that destroyed over 20 homes in Laguna Niguel was sparked by one of the utility’s poles that held a major volt distributor. The failure allegedly caused “an arc that ignited susceptible ground vegetation,” which then spread, the suit states.
While the lawsuit—filed in the Orange County Superior Court—doesn’t specify a dollar amount for damages sought, the county is asking for compensation for damage to public infrastructure and land restoration, as well as costs incurred from law enforcement, fire suppression efforts, and emergency operations center costs.
Southern California Edison responded to The Epoch Times regarding the allegations, stating they have cooperated with investigations surrounding the fires.
“Our thoughts are with the communities who were impacted by the Silverado and coastal fires. Southern California Edison cooperated with Orange County Fire Authority in their investigations and it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment outside of the legal process on the specifics of ongoing legal action,” the utility’s spokeswoman Diane Castro told The Epoch Times.
A request for comment from T-Mobile was not returned on deadline.
Local officials claim the utility is not doing enough to mitigate wildfire threats and is subsequently responsible for damages wrought by both fires.
A SoCal Edison power station in Santa Ana, Calif., on June 9, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A SoCal Edison power station in Santa Ana, Calif., on June 9, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“We demand that the utilities responsible for the destruction of county assets, increased expenses, reduced revenues, and environmental damages, reimburse the County,” Supervisor Katrina Foley said in a statement Oct. 3. “In 2022, the California State Auditor found that the utilities are not doing enough to reduce wildfire threats throughout the State of California. We have a duty to protect our taxpayers and County assets.”
The suit, filed against both companies, alleges that both companies “knowingly” failed to properly maintain their infrastructure within their electrical and telecommunications lines located in areas with vegetation and such increased fire risk.
“SCE and T-Mobile both had a duty to properly construct and maintain their electrical and telecommunications infrastructure and surrounding vegetation. SCE and T-Mobile violated these duties by knowingly operating aging and improperly maintained infrastructure,” the lawsuit states, adding that had the companies “acted responsibly the Silverado fire could have been prevented.”
The Silverado fire, which burned for 12 days in 2020 near Irvine, charred over 12,400 acres and forced thousands of residents to evacuate.
One suit alleges SoCal Edison failed to shut off its power lines for 36 minutes after the fire began.
The Coastal fire, which started May 11 last year, broke out on land identified by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) to be a “very high fire hazard severity zone,” according to the lawsuit. This classification, the suit says, made it clear that Edison should have taken elevated safety measures and precautions in the area.
However, some critics have stated in the past that such fires are also a result of failed environmental policy, whereby state agencies are not clearing out dry brush from fire-prone areas quickly enough, leading to excess wildfires.
Firefighters work on extinguishing the Coastal Fire in Aliso Viejo, Calif., on May 11, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Firefighters work on extinguishing the Coastal Fire in Aliso Viejo, Calif., on May 11, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

In California, forest management largely falls under the purview of Cal Fire. Since 2011, the agency has spent more than $600 million on fire prevention efforts and removed or felled nearly 2 million dead trees. In 2018, the state set the goal of slashing, burning, sawing, or thinning 500,000 acres of fire-prone wildland per year.
However, as dry brush and fire-prone vegetation continue to increase throughout the region, such measures are argued by some to not be enough to stem the increasing wildfire sparks in the state.
Last May, a group of homeowners whose properties burned down during the Coastal fire also filed a lawsuit alleging Edison’s equipment caused the blaze. That lawsuit is ongoing, according to court records.
Late last year, the state forestry department also sued Edison and T-Mobile, claiming equipment failures caused the Silverado fire. That suit accused the companies of failing to properly design, install, and upkeep their equipment, alleging the issues caused sparking amid strong Santa Ana winds and sent sparks into the dry brush. That lawsuit is also ongoing, according to court records.
Carol Cassis

Carol Cassis

Author

California Insider
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