Catastrophic Wildfires Spark Class-Action Lawsuits Against Pacific Corporation
Labor Day catastrophic fires have raged out of control in Oregon. The plaintiffs, Robin Colbert and Jeanyne James, have filed a class-action lawsuit in the Multnomah County Circuit Court. They lost their homes, four vehicles, and all their belonging during the Labor Day windstorm fires in Santiam Canyon.
The windy conditions left exposed power lines energized around Oregon. The windstorm started brush fires, destroyed high-voltage power lines, and ignited trees and grass. Thousands of acres of land were destroyed, people's lives were lost, and structures were demolished.
The attorneys cite negligence against the defendant — Portland, Oregon, based — Pacific Power. The plaintiffs seek attorney fees and damages.
The Five Major Oregon Wildfires
Pacific Power, owned by its parent company Pacific Corporation, has several voltage lines that have been exposed throughout the state of Oregon into California. Subsequently, many fires occurred during Labor Day weekend.
- Echo Mountain Complex: The Lincoln City Fire
- Slater Fire: Ignited in Happy Camp, California, and subsequently found its way into Oregon
- Archie Creek Fire: The Umpqua National Forest
- Alameda: Rogue Valley Fire
- Santiam Canyon: Blazing fire through Oregon 22
Pacific Gas and Electric
Since the fires, several homes and businesses have been destroyed. Two lives have been lost in California, and nine lives have been lost in Oregon.
Wildfires can cause huge controversies and massive liabilities. The 2018 California wildfire contributed to the demise of Pacific Gas & Electric — California's largest utility provider. The company had to file bankruptcy after the wildfire destroyed Paradise City. Over 11,000 homes were decimated, and 85 people died.
To pay proper claims, Pacific Gas & Electric provided claimants with a $13.5 billion settlement in the form of cash aid and stocks. Before the 2018 wildfires, PG&E had outstanding litigation claims of $30 billion for prior incidents. Exposed power lines and faulty equipment during dust and power storms have set numerous fires throughout the years.
Santiam Canyon County Lawsuits
According to the Northwest Interagency Fire Coordination Center, exposed power lines caused several fires from Detroit to Mehama on the Santiam Canyon County line in early September.
In fact, the firefighters established a command center at the Gates School to fight the blaze. The command center was destroyed when a power line fell on a fence surrounding the center, crushing the camp and the firefighters' equipment. The Labor Day fire started other fires near the center, respectively.
PacifiCorp declined to comment on whether their downed power lines started the blaze. However, the executive director for the Upward Bound Camp, Diane Turnbull, said PacifiCorp is indeed responsible. Their faulty power lines provide power to the school's property.
Pacific Power is not the only utility provider in Oregon. Other nearby utility companies facing lawsuits include:
- Eugene Water and Electric: Power lines are located where the Holiday Farm Fires destroyed several buildings
- Lane Electric Cooperative: Situated on the McKenzie River where fires blazed during the Holiday Farm fires
- Portland General Electric: Located in Santiam County, power lines were in the region of the Riverside fires
- Bonneville Power Administration: Owns power transformers and equipment in the Clackamas County regional fires
The law firms of Keller Rohrback of Seattle, Nick Kahl, LLC, of Portland, and Stoll Berne are providing representation. David Mensher, the attorney for Keller Rohrback, said that these fires were not started by random campers enjoying a pleasantly cool evening underneath the stars.
Instead, the fires were ignited by Pacific Corporation's power lines. The ignitions caused overwhelming and massive fires that raged out of control. Pacific Corporation could have prevented these uncontrollable fires with regular equipment maintenance and replacement. Furthermore, Mensher said that "at the end of the day, these tragic losses could have been prevented. These community-destroying fires were not inevitable."
The attorneys filed the lawsuit on Wednesday. The lawsuit claims that the Pacific Corporation was negligent because it failed to:
- Maintain poles
- Maintain transformers
- Maintain power lines
- Update and replace equipment
The Pacific Corporation has failed to clear vegetation from the fields to prevent the onslaught of dry conditions that insinuate fires. Most utility providers de-energize power lines during critical dry conditions. However, Pacific Corporation decided not to de-energize their power lines so that it would not hinder evacuation proceedings and suppression.
Moreover, the attorneys have filed additional claims of public nuisance and trespassing. Counsel is asking the court for an injunction against Pacific Power, forcing them to de-energize their power lines during harsh conditions. Thereby, the continuous mass destruction of property would stop.
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