Nuns Fire Litigation Update
The Nuns Fire started at approximately 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 8, 2017. Originating near Highway 12, north of Glen Ellen in Sonoma County, the blaze spread rapidly through neighborhoods, destroying residences, structures, businesses and trees. As the fire approached Sonoma Square, it was feared the historic Downton would be destroyed. The fire merged with the Partrick Fire, a separate fire that had begun around 11:48 p.m. the same evening. After the Nuns and Partrick fires joined, they combined with four other large fires that had been burning—the Adobe, Norrbom, Pressley, and Oakmont fires. The merger of these six fires created a single massive blaze, which has been referred to as the Nuns Fire.
The Nuns Fire was devastating to families, individuals , animals and businesses in the Sonoma community. We are privileged to represent victims in and around the town of Sonoma damaged by the Nunn’s fire. Our clients include residents who suffered physical injury and wrongful death; losses, loss of homes, businesses and recreational land. Many of our clients suffered damage to areas of natural land and historic vegetation not covered by insurance; majestic Oaks, Bay trees, Redwoods, Madrones and natural vegetation. Others suffered catastrophic losses of personal property including priceless family heirlooms.
Together the fires caused the deaths of several individuals, destroyed almost 7,000 structures and burned over 110,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties. The following zip codes have been impacted by the Nuns Fire: 94559, 95476, 94558, 94562, 94574, 95409, 95452, 95442, 95431, 95405, and 95404.
An initial probe revealed downed PG&E power lines, exploded transformers, unsuitable fuses, inadequate connections, limited clearances, and decaying power poles.
It is therefore believed the fire started when power lines, transformers, insulators and other electrical equipment exploded and came into contact with vegetation PG&E had failed to trim. Very soon after the Nuns Fire started, PG&E informed the California Public Utilities Commission that there was an incident concerning damage to its equipment an hour after midnight on October 9, 2017 at 1210 Nuns Canyon Road. (PG&E Incident Report No. 171026-8576). According to the latitude/longitude coordinates identified by CAL FIRE as the origin of the Nuns Fire, the location of the PG&E incident is a near exact match. (CAL FIRE Nuns Incident Information)
Questions exist as to the quality and frequency of PG&E’s safety inspections and what steps, if any, it took to assure sufficient clearance between power poles and trees. Further, the functionality and design of PG&E’s electrical are under evaluation —specifically, to determine whether PG&E properly automated the system for immediate shut down to protect against igniting a fire or whether PG&E programmed the system to re-calibrate and transmit more electricity, so that it could avoid the cost of servicing outages.
Some have suggested that PG&E’s behavior in connection the Nuns Fire appears consistent with its pattern of ignoring California PUC safety regulations, failing to update its aging infrastructure and substandard maintenance procedures.
The Potter/Redwood fire began at around 11:36 p.m. on Sunday, October 8, 2017. The fire originated in Mendocino County near Highway 20, west of Mendocino National Forest and south of Black Bart. To extinguish the fire required 34 fire crews and 61 engine companies. The map below shows the fire perimeter of the Potter/Redwood Fire, which stretches from Ridge across to Redwood and down beyond Laughlin .
The consequences of this blaze have been catastrophic for the local community. The fire burned 36,523 acres, completely destroyed 545 structures and damaged 43 more structures. Most tragic, the Redwood/Potter fire caused the loss of two lives.
The Redwood/Potter Fire appears to have been caused by contact between untrimmed trees and PG&E high voltage wires. Reports show that at around 11:25 p.m. PG&E reported downed wires and broken trees in the Potter Valley, Mendocino County area. When the live wires came into contact trees, a firestorm ignited.
Unfortunately, the fire and the ensuing damage could have been avoided if PG&E had carefully monitored its power lines and had proper procedures in place. PG&E has known for years that if trees or other growth come into contact with its power lines, a dangerous fire can ignite. Nevertheless, PG&E failed to regularly inspect its power lines, failed to trim and prune vegetation so that it was kept at a safe distance and failed to anticipate the fatal consequences of a tree falling or otherwise coming into contact with its high voltage electric lines.
The devastating Sulphur Fire started in Lake County near Highway 20 and Sulphur Bank Road just before midnight on October 8, 2017, when a rotted and unmaintained PG&E pole collapsed and caused high voltage electrical wires to come into contact with trees and vegetation.
The Sulphur Fire burned for 17 days through and around Lake County and in watersheds that drain directly to Borax Lake and Clear Lake, which supplies municipal water for several communities, including the City of Clearlake. When the fire was finally 100% contained it left 2,207 acres blackened and over 160 buildings (residences, outbuildings and commercial buildings) destroyed or damaged. The map below shows the perimeter of the Sulphur Fire.
The full extent of damage to the community and potential health-related and environmental issues is not yet known. The Sulphur Fire Watershed Emergency Response Team’s November 15, 2017, Evaluation indicates that the fire has impacted county drinking water and the nearby Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine Superfund Site.
The Sulphur Fire has also created potential dangers associated with flooding and landslides. There is great concern that the fire has destabilized the soil of residential structures built on downslopes The fire covered elevations from approximately 1,330 feet above mean sea level along the shoreline of Clear Lake to about 2,060 feet along the crest of Sulphur Bank Ridge. Given the recent tragic events in Santa Barbara County, these conditions will require significant investigation and repair.
PG&E’s inspection practices are at the forefront of the investigation of the cause of the Sulphur Fire. It appears that PG&E failed to adequately staff or provide sufficient resources to ensure it complied with legally required clearance distances. There are believed to be approximately 500,000 trees along PG&E distribution lines that are diseased, dying or otherwise hazardous to its high voltage lines. Sadly, it appears PG&E put profit over safety despite knowing that, when an outage occurred it could result in disastrous and deadly wildfires.