Shortly after the Wine Country Fires raged across the Napa and Sonoma Counties, destroying life and property in the Atlas Peak Fire, Tubbs Fire, Nuns Fire and Patrick Fire, PG&E spokesman threw out the claim that winds were “hurricane strength winds in excess of 75mph in some cases.” However, the weather records do not appear to support this statement. For example, at a weather station near at Atlas Peak Station, the wind was 32 mph NNE at 9:29 p.m. on October 8, 2017. At the weather station where the Tubbs fire originated, the peak wind gusts were 30 mph at 9:29 p.m. and one hour later 41 mph.
PG&E has to comply with PUC General Order 95 regarding clearances for trees, pole strength, etc. Anyone that lives in Napa and Sonoma knows it gets windy, and that wind can shake up windows, tip over garbage cans, and give the wires above a snapping good ride. The regulations from the PUC are there to protect all of us from a wire coming down, either because a tree was too close and was uprooted into a pole, a transformer, or knocked out a wire, or a wire became dislodged in the wind.
If PG&E and/or its folks who are responsible for tree trimming failed to do a reasonable job in keeping trees away from wires, or if the crews did not properly attach all of the equipment, they can be held responsible for their negligence.
But there is another way of holding PG&E responsible without showing negligence, and that is the doctrine of inverse condemnation. Our position is that PG&E is a quasi-public entity as a regulated utility. It has a limited power of eminent domain. Under our law, where there is a taking by a public entity, it is called condemnation and there must be just compensation. But where the entity takes without the power of eminent domain, it is called inverse condemnation, and it can give rise to a claim called inverse condemnation.
In the 2015 Butte County Fires, the California Public Utilities Commission’s investigation found that PG&E did not have the minimum clearance required around its equipment and failed to maintain its overhead conductors safely and properly. A gray pine tree contacted a PG&E 12-kilovolt overhead electric conductor and ignited the fire on September 9, 2015.
Earlier this year, a Superior Court Judge in Sacramento found that PG&E was responsible for the 2015 Butte County Fire under the legal doctrine of inverse condemnation. The property owners were then eligible to recover damages for loss of both real and personal property (land, trees, buildings, etc.).
Negligence and inverse condemnation are just two of the theories we are exploring on behalf of our clients who have suffered the loss of their homes in the Wine Country Fires from Atlas Peak to Soda Canyon to Kenwood to Coffey Park.
The Brandi Law Firm has had a number of cases against PG&E in the past, ranging from the San Bruno Fire Case to actions involving inspections of their systems leading to injury and death. The California Public Utility Commission has numerous regulations pertaining to PG&E conduct including General Order 95 that details requirements for all lines, clearances, minimum safety factors, etc.
We are a firm with roots in the community that has long served people in the affected areas. We have clients and know friends who have lost their homes. We are available to help you with the numerous questions that will arise regarding this process and holding accountable those responsible
If you feel you have been damaged by the Wine Country Fires (the Tubbs Fire, Patrick Fire, Atlas Peak Fire, or Nuns Fires), please contact us at 800-425-1986 and ask for Thomas Brandi. We are available free of charge to discuss your situation.