SANTA ANA, Calif. - Orange County filed two separate lawsuits against Southern California Edison and T-Mobile with the OC Superior Court on Monday for their roles in the county's recent wildfires, Silverado Fire (2020) and Coastal Fire (2022). Both lawsuits allege that utility infrastructure caused these fires, specifically that the utility companies acted negligently in maintaining, owning and operating the equipment.
Edison is named as a defendant in both lawsuits, and the Silverado Fire lawsuit named T-Mobile as an additional defendant.
The Coastal Fire lawsuit alleges an "electrical failure" on a utility pole caused the fire, which broke out just after 2:30 p.m. in May 2022, near Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park in Laguna Niguel. The fire burned for six days and destroyed nearly 20 homes.
The lawsuit further alleges the "Coastal Fire was caused by (Southern California Edison's) negligence in failing to maintain its overhead electrical facilities in a safe manner," and that the company failed to "identify, inspect, repair and/or replace various electrical equipment (on a utility pole) which were at risk of failing."
The county claims the utility company also failed to clear away vegetation that fueled the Coastal Fire's blaze.
"These lawsuits seek to recover taxpayer dollars, spent by the county to protect the public, from those responsible for the damages," said Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Donald P. Wagner. He represents the Third District where the Silverado Fire burned nearly 13,000 acres.
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The Silverado Fire broke out just before 7 p.m. in October 2020, at Santiago Canyon and Silverado Canyon roads. The blaze raged over 12 days and destroyed multiple structures, caused the evacuation of thousands of residents and closed numerous schools, according to the lawsuit.
Edison reported to the California Public Utilities Commission that a "lashing wire" attached to a "telecommunication line" may have made contact with Edison equipment, which could have sparked the Silverado Fire's blaze, according to court documents.
The lashing wire supposedly belonged to T-Mobile, according to the lawsuit.
T-Mobile officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuits filed.
"We demand that the utilities responsible for the destruction of county assets, increased expenses, reduced revenues and environmental damages, reimburse the County," said Supervisor Katrina Foley, who represents the Fifth District where the Coastal Fire burned 200 acres. "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 taxpayer and county assets."