California utility to pay $80M to settle claims from wildfire 2017

Federal officials said Monday that Southern California Edison will pay $80 million to settle claims made by the U.S. Forest Service about a huge wildfire in 2017 that destroyed more than 1,000 homes and other buildings. An announcement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said that the utility agreed to the deal on Friday, but they did not say they were guilty or wrong about the Thomas fire. It was found that the fires in two canyons on December 4, 2017, were started by utility equipment. Cal Fire says the Thomas fire, which burned over 439 square miles in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, is the seventh biggest fire in the state’s history.

The settlement is a “reasonable resolution,” according to Southern California Edison spokeswoman Gabriela Ornelas. “We are continuing to protect our communities from the risk of wildfires through better operational practices, situational awareness, and hardening the grid,” Ornelas said Monday.

In 2020, federal officials sued the utility company to get the money they spent fighting the fire and fixing the damage it did to public lands in the Los Padres National Forest. The claim said that Edison power lines and a transformer set fire to dry brush when there were strong winds.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph T. McNally said in a statement that the deal “gives significant compensation to taxpayers.” Edison has now paid a lot of money to settle the Thomas fire case. The utility has also paid out claims linked to the 2018 Woolsey fire. Edison thought in 2021 that the combined damage from the two fires would be more than $4.5 billion.

In recent years, California has seen more and more deadly wildfires. Climate change and drought have made things worse. Some of the worst fires in the state have been linked to utility equipment. Former Pacific Gas & Electric executives and directors agreed to pay $117 million to settle a lawsuit in 2022. The case was about the devastating wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018 that were caused by the utility’s equipment.

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