DIXIE FIRE Lawsuit
The Dixie Fire started in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on July 13. This fire is now the second-largest in California history, covering a geographical area the size of New York City. Named for the road where it started, the Dixie Fire initially ignited in Feather River Canyon near Cresta Powerhouse and Lake Almanor.
As of September 5, 2021, the Dixie Fire has burned down 893,852 acres (1,396 square miles) in Northern California, an increase of 8,000 acres in 24 hours. Containment was 56%, destroying homes and other structures in the counties of Butte, Plumas, Tehama, and Lassen. Police are now evacuating thousands of people from their homes and issuing new evacuation orders each day. Authorities don’t expect to contain the fire until August 20, and its movement continues to be erratic.
Dixie Fire Lawsuit Updates
The Dixie Fire exceeded its previous boundaries, spreading closer to Highway 395 and prompting heightened caution and possible road closures, as reported by The Mercury News. As a result of the fire’s continued movement, evacuations were reissued for Honey Lake. To the east of the fire, evacuation orders remain in place, including in Milford. However, many residents are returning to their homes to the west, including regions like Lake Almanor, Greenville, Crescent Mills, and Bucks Lake.
The Dixie Fire is California’s second-largest recorded wildfire and has been raging for just under two months, beginning along Highway 70 on July 13. As of the morning of Sunday, September 5, 2021, the Forest Service fire managers reported that Dixie has now covered 893,852 acres. The fire consumed 8,000 additional acres in just 24 hours. Containment was at 56%.
By Monday, The Mercury News provided another update reporting that the Dixie Fire once again breached its former perimeter, with its eastern edge now touching Highway 395. Accordingly, Milford remains in the evacuation zone.
While firefighters are working hard to contain the fire to the eastern edge of the highway, primarily affecting a thin portion of agricultural land near Herlong Junction, it continues to find new regions to burn, also reaching the scar of July’s Beckwourth Complex’s Sugar Fire, just south of where it met the highway.
Wednesday’s report from the Forest Service fire managers showed an increase in coverage of 4,600 acres since the morning prior, totaling 922,192 acres engulfed by the Dixie Fire. Containment was at 59%.
The investigation into the cause of the Dixie Fire and litigation with PG&E remains ongoing.
Between August 17 and August 19, the Court issued three separate orders requiring information from Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), defendant to the U.S. initiated lawsuit filed in the United States District Court of the Northern District of California.
Follow-up questions proffered by U.S. District Judge William Alsup aim to clear up several discrepancies with submitted evidentiary documents and PG&E-provided information about the Dixie Fire. Many questions center on the fallen Douglas Fir believed to be significant in the start of the fire, calling to attention seemingly altered photos depicting its condition at the scene of the incident.
The Court additionally questions the operation of a drone that interfered with the work of Dixie firefighters in mid-July, presumably flown by a PG&E contractor whom the company believed had already completed their work duties for the day.
Lastly, Judge Alsup asks for clarification about elevated risk ratings for equipment and vegetation. Several questions also reference the accompanying Fly Fire and the White Fir that fell onto the Gasner Circuit, supposedly sparking the initial flame.
Judge Alsup ordered that PG&E provide its answers to the Court’s questions by August 25 at noon, except for question 7 (regarding the production of reports, memos, and emails concerning the site visit on April 16, 2021, and any details describing or referencing the need to plan for undergrounding the circuit or the problem leading to acquired proposals or the need for such proposals). The Court extended PG&E’s obligation to respond to question 7 to August 31 at noon.
The following day, August 18, Judge Alsup ordered a further request for responses from PG&E, again shedding light on even more discrepancies in PG&E’s testimony and previously submitted evidence. In the Court’s ordered request, questions include statements like “Another thing that does not add up…” and “Your July 28 submission states… but is vague…”
The Court exposes several seeming doubts or suspicions about the sequence or truth of events, quizzing PG&E about supposed delays in the fire’s spread based on recorded times and the apparent coincidence of the troubleman’s arrival at the site before the spotting of the fire by anyone. The Court asks if it’s possible that the troubleman might have done something upon his arrival to cause the fire, even accidentally. Additionally, it’s questioned whether the troubleman replaced a blown fuse at the pole as intended and if so, was the troubleman aware of the risks of arcing or the dangers posed by the tree leaning on the line.
The Court requires the receipt of answers for these additional inquiries by August 31 at noon.
After probing more into the troubleman’s possible role in the start of the Dixie Fire, Judge Alsup submitted a third order on August 19, requiring that all responses to the Court’s questions be sworn under oath. Additionally, the Court asked to be notified by August 24 at noon about whether PG&E will voluntarily produce the troubleman who reported the Dixie Fire to testify at the September 13 hearing scheduled for 2 p.m.
Judge Alsup informed PG&E that if the troubleman will not voluntarily attend, the Court will issue a subpoena and have it served by the U.S. Marshals Service to PG&E and the troubleman’s home address, which PG&E is also to provide to the Court under seal by August 24 at noon.
PG&E is also required to offer under seal, by the same deadline, the name and address of the PG&E employee who provided information about another employee who saw the drone-at-issue in the contractor’s car on July 14.
Lastly, the Court requested all transcripts of 911 calls and calls to Cal FIRE made by the troubleman or any other PG&E employee to report the Dixie Fire, and radio calls made by the troubleman to dispatch centers at Rocklin and Chico, his supervisor, Cal FIRE, and any other emergency responder, and any return radio calls made to the troubleman.
On August 6, 2021, U.S. District Judge William Alsup for the United States District Court Northern District of California issued an order requesting information from Defendant Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) regarding the Dixie Fire, Fly Fire, and other accompanying fires devastating large swaths of land and homes in The Golden State. On August 16, 2021, PG&E submitted a three-part answer, addressing each fire or set of fires separately.
PG&E asserts that the investigation concerning the cause and origin of the Fly Fire, which overlaps with the Dixie Fire investigation, is ongoing. Additionally, the company emphasizes that it’s assisting and cooperating with the United States Forest Service (USFS) as a part of their ongoing investigation, too, accompanying them on site visits on August 2 and 4.
A White Fir is the focus of the investigation, with many, including the Butte County District Attorney, examining whether a tree was on a line igniting the fire or the fire started putting the tree on the line.
PG&E noted that USFS has not yet reported its determination about the cause or origin of the fire.
However, an enhanced inspection conducted on June 25, 2021, led to the creation of Electric Corrective (EC) notifications for certain poles “sandwiching” the White Fir in question. In the comments section, the notifications state, “Trees growing around the pole” and “Tree limbs overgrown around pole.” Both notifications were outstanding when the Fly Fire began, with the completion date set for June 25, 2022.
Section 4292 of the Public Resources Code (PRC) requires a clearing of “a 10-foot radius up to eight-feet high of vegetation around poles in a State Responsibility Area that have non-exempt equipment.” Only one pole had non-exempt equipment. PG&E’s records show that routine vegetation clearing work previously took place on the pole with non-exempt equipment on April 20, 2021 and was subject to another clearing on July 31, 2021.
The suspected location of the Dixie Fire involved the Bucks Creek 1101 Circuit. PG&E uses the 2021 Wildfire Distribution Risk Model to rank circuit segments for wildfire risks and identified this circuit location as belonging to a High Fire Threat District (HFTD). This classification reflects the probability of ignition and the predicted consequences of ignition from either equipment failure or vegetation/tree contacts.
Investigators suspect that a Douglas Fir (not identified for work following two separate vegetation inspections on November 11, 2020 and January 14, 2021) contacted PG&E equipment igniting the Dixie Fire. The most recent tree work to take place near the span of the Dixie Fire ignition happened in June 2019. Additionally, special equipment inspections most recently took place in the span on May 29, 2020 and May 13, 2021, with PG&E’s records showing no requirement for corrective action.
However, in light of the elevated risk ranking, in January 2021, PG&E identified the Bucks Creek 1101 as requiring system hardening primarily by undergrounding its equipment, aiding in the mitigation of both vegetation and equipment risks reducing the likelihood of wildfires. A site visit with representatives from PG&E and other involved governmental entities, and discussions for planning, engineering, permitting, and construction, occurred on April 16, 2021, but this work had not yet begun when the Dixie Fire ignited.
In an attached two-page listing titled Appendix A to PG&E’s response to the Court, the company identified 62 additional CPUC Reportable Ignitions in High Fire Threat Districts involving PG&E equipment between May 10, 2021 and July 31, 2021. A CPUC Reportable Ignition involves the following:
- The fire burned material other than that of an electrical or communication facility
- The fire traveled more than one linear meter from the ignition point
- The suspected initiation of the fire is attributed to PG&E equipment
PG&E stated that it limited its response “to rely on its ongoing work to track and gather information” for its annual submissions to the CPUC. However, the company acquiesced that it would provide a supplemental response if the Court required additional information about non-reportable ignitions, affecting only PG&E equipment and spreading less than one linear meter.
PG&E confirmed that it was unaware of any deaths resulting from the ignitions listed in Appendix A, but the company does acknowledge the destruction of one structure on June 16, 2021, for which the suspected initiating event was contact with a bird.
Finally, PG&E concluded that all information “is preliminary and subject to change,” with investigations and analyses ongoing.
What caused the Dixie Fire?
PG&E’s preliminary report noted that, just before the fire started, a PG&E worker checked on a power outage at Cresta Dam off of Highway 70. The worker noticed two blown fuses, a tree leaning into some electrical equipment nearby, and a small fire on the ground near the tree. PG&E has also admitted that its equipment may have started the Fly Fire, which began about a week after the Dixie Fire and quickly merged with it. Strong winds and extremely dry vegetation have fueled the fire’s ferocious spread.
Which areas are at continued risk due to the Dixie Fire?
Almost 14,000 structures in the northern Sierra Nevada are still under threat from the Dixie Fire. The fire continues to burn erratically, so its direction is unclear. However, you can find up-to-date reports and evacuation orders from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
What happened as a result of the Dixie Fire?
Fortunately, there are no reported deaths from the Dixie Fire. However, thousands of Northern Californians have already lost their homes. Entire towns have even been wiped out, including Greenville in Plumas County, about 150 miles north of Sacramento. The fire swept through and destroyed the 1,000-resident community in less than two hours.
How is PG&E involved in the Dixie Fire?
Experts suspect PG&E of having contributed to the start of the fire. In June 2020, PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for deaths resulting from the Camp Fire, which destroyed Paradise, California, in 2018. In the criminal action against PG&E, the company admitted that its equipment started the fire. The grand jury report that led to the criminal charges against PG&E found that the utility company ignored warnings to fix its aging power lines and improve maintenance. The jury also found that that PG&E failed to follow state regulations.
Can I file a lawsuit against PG&E for the Dixie Fire?
If the Dixie Fire destroyed your property or personally injured you, you may have a claim against PG&E and other entities that may be held liable. Many victims of the Paradise Camp Fire have sued PG&E in court. These victims alleged that PG&E was negligent in the maintenance of its power lines. Although investigators have not yet determined the fire’s cause, PG&E will likely be a named defendant in future civil lawsuits.
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What if my insurance doesn’t cover all of my damages after the Dixie Fire?
If you lost your home or commercial property in the Dixie Fire, your insurance might not cover the cost of rebuilding and your living expenses while you rebuild. During the COVID-19 pandemic, prices of lumber and other building materials soared. As entire towns must rebuild entirely, local inflationary costs will stifle California property owners. Contractors will also be challenging to find. Demand will be high, and labor costs will likely become exorbitant. The costs incurred by delays in rebuilding could exceed insurance coverage limits for many people.
After the Camp Fire, one insurance company, Merced Property & Casualty Co., was hit with so many claims by its policyholders that it had to cease operations. As of October 2020, many insurers are leaving California as they face more and more lawsuits over wildfires. Insurance claims from the Dixie Fire will likely be astronomical, threatening the viability of other California insurance companies.
This threat makes it unclear whether or not policyholders will be able to recover their rebuilding costs. Some policyholders who lost their homes in the Camp Fire are still, nearly three years later, fighting with their insurance companies over their coverage. If an insurer becomes insolvent due to claims from the California wildfires, the California Insurance Guarantee Association must pay the policyholder’s claims. However, the cap for each claim is $500,000, which may not be enough for some homeowners to replace their property.
If your insurance doesn’t cover your losses, you may be able to obtain compensation by filing a lawsuit against the responsible parties. Under California law, electric utilities are strictly liable for damages caused by their equipment or activity. After the Camp Fire and other fires in 2018, PG&E declared bankruptcy and subsequently agreed to pay out $24.5 billion in lawsuits.
How much compensation can I receive if I file a lawsuit after the Dixie Fire?
The amount of compensation you can receive if the Dixie Fire affected your home or commercial property depends on various factors. You should speak with the lawyers at Cutter Law to understand the different case-specific facts influencing a potential payout by your insurance company or responsible parties to recover your losses.
What should landowners and residents do after the Dixie Fire?
If the Dixie Fire destroyed your property, document everything, including all property and personal possessions destroyed in the fire. Contact your insurance company immediately. You should also contact the lawyers at Cutter Law to understand if you can file a civil lawsuit for damages and how much your claim may be worth.
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How can a Dixie Fire attorney help me?
An experienced attorney can help guide you through the insurance claim process and determine if you may have a claim in court against the persons or entities responsible. Your attorney will investigate your claim, gather crucial evidence, and file all necessary documents with the insurance company and other parties.
If the Dixie Fire caused you damages, you do not have to go fight alone against the insurance companies, PG&E, or any other responsible party.
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