ClickCease Community ALERT: Legal Consortium Formed for Nor-Cal Fire Victims

Community ALERT: Legal Consortium Formed for Nor-Cal Fire Victims

Legal Help is Available for Victims Who Have Been Injured, Killed, or Lost Their Property in the First 24 Hours

Walkup partners, Michael A. Kelly and Khaldoun Baghdadi, have family, home and business ties to Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and partner Matthew Davis has similar ties to Napa county. They have organized a team to try and help the victims of the Northern California fires and expedite legal claims against PG&E, as well as help with reimbursement and payment from individual insurers.

The Walkup Firm has joined with three of California’s top consumer litigation firms to help victims of the Santa Rosa, Napa, Calistoga and Sonoma fires. In a first of its kind consortium, the four firms, all of whom have deep roots in the affected northern California communities, are committed to helping Sonoma/Napa families. The firms are Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger (Michael A. Kelly and Khaldoun Baghdadi) working in association with Panish Shea & Boyle, Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood, and Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

Our initial investigation has focused on those injured or killed or who lost their homes and property in the first 24 hours, in close geographic proximity to locations where downed power lines were called in to PG&E Sunday evening. That is not to say that others who sustained losses do not have claims, but these are clearly victims who PG&E should take care of.

The combined experience of the firms includes prosecution of past wildland and wild fires caused by PG&E line failures, transformer explosions and local utility fires including the San Bruno fires, caused by PG&E gas line failures, and individual burn injury and wrongful death cases caused by utility company negligence.

We have also affiliated with well-established, historically respected, local community law firms in Santa Rosa and Napa to connect directly with victims. We have also allied ourselves with nationally known specialists in the field of fire insurance, insurance claims, homeowners insurance claims, property damage claims practices and public adjusting to help local homeowners and property owners in dealing with their own insurance companies

Emergency dispatch records from Sunday night reveal numerous reports of “electrical issues” starting around 9:20 p.m. The official incident information from Cal Fire identifies the starting times for the fires as follows:

9:45 p.m. – Tubbs Fire (Napa County)
9:52 p.m. – Atlas Fire (Napa and Solano Counties)
10:00 p.m. – Nuns Fire (Sonoma County)
11:48 p.m. – Partrick Fire (Napa County)
1:30 a.m. – Pressley Fire (Sonoma County)
3:30 a.m. – Pocket Fire (Sonoma County)

In the half-hour leading up to the start of the Tubbs fire, callers reported transformer explosions, fallen trees and downed electrical lines. Calls reporting similar issues came in continuously until the fires began burning out of control.

PG&E has acknowledged finding downed wires, broken poles and impacted infrastructure. All of the problems identified by PG&E should have already been reported to the CPUC. The CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division has already issued PG&E a letter requiring it to “preserve all evidence” from the fires in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties, including “all failed poles, conductors and associated equipment from each fire event” and “all electronic (including emails) and non-electronic documents related to potential causes of the fires, vegetation management, maintenance and/or tree trimming.”

CPUC rules require public utilities like PG&E to notify the public agency when they learn of equipment problems that meet a particular criteria. Utilities have no more than four hours to alert the CPUC of any incident that results in death or significant injury, involves property damage exceeding $50,000 or that is “the subject of significant public attention or media coverage and are attributable or allegedly attributable to utility facilities….”

PG&E has told media outlets that it has made the necessary reports to the CPUC and Cal Fire.

Under state law, utilities are required to maintain power lines safely and cut back trees to prevent fires. Prior to the Butte Fire, PG&E removed two trees that were part of the same tree stand as the tree that ultimately caused the fire. This caused the problem tree to be exposed to sun and wind when it previously had been shielded from those elements. The sun exposure shifted the growth direction of the tree. Since the tree previously was shielded from the wind, it had not developed the features that make trees sturdy in windy environments and was “inherently unstable.” Cal Fire criticized PG&E and its contractors for how they maintained the vegetation in the area and ultimately concluded that PG&E’s negligent maintenance led to the tree contacting the power line.

On September 9, 2015, the “Butte Fire”, ignited at 17704 Butte Mountain Road in the city of Jackson in Amador County. The fire burned 70,868 acres, destroyed 921 structures (549 homes, 368 outbuildings, and 4 commercial properties), damaged 44 structures, and resulted in two “indirect” civilian fatalities and one injury.

The CPUC Incident Investigation Report, which was issued in March of this year, determined that a gray pine contacted a PG&E 12 kV overhead conductor and caused an ignition that started the fire. The Butte Fire was not the first time that PG&E conduct was found to have led to catastrophic fires. In 1994, PG&E was found guilty of 739 counts of negligence and fined nearly $30 million by state regulators when trees touched its high-voltage wires in Nevada County in the Sierra foothills, sparking a fire near the town of Rough and Ready that destroyed 12 homes and a 19th century schoolhouse. Afterward, prosecutors found that PG&E had diverted nearly $80 million from its tree-cutting programs into profits.

If you have lost your home or business, or a loved one has been injured or killed, contact the Walkup Law Firm. Santa Rosa fire victims, Fountain Grove fire victims, Round Barn Fire victims, Nuns fire victims, Atlas fire victims, Calistoga fire victims, Tubbs fire victims, Partrick Fire victims and Pocket fire victims who have lost a home or business or who have lost a loved one or have suffered injury, or who need more information, contact us at once. We will provide a no fee consultation. All representation in on the basis of no recovery, no fee contingent fee representation.