Multiple families have filed a lawsuit against Southern California Edison, alleging the utility failed to properly de-energize its electrical lines and caused the deadly Fairview fire in Hemet, which destroyed dozens of structures.
The blaze ignited Sept. 5 near Fairview Avenue and Bautista Canyon Road and had burned 28,307 acres and was 98% contained as of Wednesday, the most recent day for data, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire killed two people and displaced tens of thousands of residents following mandatory evacuations. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday, the California Public Utilities Commission authorized Southern California Edison and other utilities to shut down their power grids to prevent wildfires in high fire-threat areas. Edison is accused of failing to shut off circuits.
The families claimed in the lawsuit that “had SCE acted responsibly, the Fairview fire could have been prevented.”
David Eisenhauer, spokesperson for Southern California Edison, confirmed the utility had submitted an initial electric safety incident report to the Public Utilities Commission, saying “circuit activity occurred close in time to the reported start time of the fire.”
According to the lawsuit, Edison identified its Sprague 12kV distribution circuit as having “activity” at the time the fire started. Eisenhauer said he couldn’t provide more specific information.
“Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by the Fairview fire, especially those who’ve lost loved ones and suffered injuries,” he said.
Guillermo Figueroa and Maria Velazco, one of the families suing Edison, said the fire destroyed their 14.5-acre property and horse-boarding facility on Gibbel Road. They say the blaze also killed three of their horses and seven of their dogs and hurt two other dogs.
Th fire destroyed the family’s vehicles and landscaping equipment used in Figueroa’s landscaping business, the lawsuit states. The family said their property also was damaged by mudslides caused by Tropical Storm Kay, which brought thunderstorms and rain to Southern California.
“The area where the fire started is designated as a ‘High Fire Threat District — Tier 3,’ which means there is an extreme risk to people and property from a utility-caused wildfire,” said Alexander Robertson, an attorney for the families. “Despite this extreme risk, and during a historic heat wave, low humidity and strong winds, SCE did not de-energize its power lines in the area where the fire started.”
Ignacio Hernandez, Sarah Hernandez and their three children also are suing Edison, saying the Fairview fire destroyed their three-acre parcel on Gibbel Road. It burned their vehicles, the roof of their house, solar and electrical panels, and landscaping and trees, they said. The blaze also killed their chickens and injured their dog.
Alexandra Lopez and Rodrigo Arias, who also live on Gibbel Road, said the fire damaged their property and caused Lopez to hurt her ankle while she was evacuating. She was hospitalized because of her injuries.
The fire killed two people, who have been identified as Ian Compton, 40, and his daughter, Mikayla Porter, who died in their car trying to escape the fire.
Tina Compton, Ian’s wife, was found severely burned outside the car, was taken to a hospital and is expected to survive, according to a friend who did not wish to be named.
Southern California Edison agreed last year to pay more than half a billion dollars in penalties and fines for its role in the Thomas, Woolsey, Rye, Meyers and Liberty fires, which collectively destroyed thousands of homes and burned more than 380,000 acres.
The utility was also sued in May by a group of Orange County homeowners, who claimed that Edison’s faulty equipment caused the Coastal fire, which destroyed more than 20 homes in Laguna Niguel