Lawsuit filed against Southern California Edison for allegedly causing the Rey Fire

The fire burned over 32,000 acres north of Santa Barbara in 2016

Map Rey Fire August 25 2016
Map of the Rey Fire. The red line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. PDT Aug. 25, 2016. The white line was the perimeter at 10 p.m. PDT Aug. 23.

The federal government has filed a lawsuit against Southern California Edison and two other companies for allegedly allowing the Rey Fire to ignite north of Santa Barbara, California on August 18, 2016. The complaint that was filed in U.S. District Court August 17, 2019 contends that of the 32,606 acres that burned in the fire, 19,752 acres were within the Los Padres National Forest. Also named in the lawsuit were Frontier Communications (a telecommunications company) and Utility Tree Service (a tree trimming company).

The fire started when a tree fell on power and communications lines. The court document states, “SCE and UTS were informed of the potential danger the tree that fell on the subject lines posed, were aware of the danger that said tree might fall on the subject lines before it fell, and failed to take any action to prevent it from falling on the subject lines.”

The filing says Frontier failed to, “…maintain proper vegetation clearance around and below its communication lines, and using a device, including its communication lines and equipment, which may cause a fire and failure to take reasonable precautions to avoid starting and spreading a fire.”

The Government alleges SCE violated the terms of its Special Use Permit for the powerlines by “…failure to prevent damage to the land and property of the United States; to take reasonable precautions to prevent and suppress fires; to construct, maintain and operate its equipment and power lines in a safe and effective working order; and to properly and safely maintain, operate, use and occupy the premises of National Forest System lands.”

On the date the suit was filed, SCE had not paid any of the suppression or rehabilitation costs which amounted to more than $26 million.

In addition to those costs, the Government hopes to recover costs of “wrongful injury to [National Forest] trees, loss of timber and vegetation, loss of habitat and environmental damages, damage to the soil, loss of use, scenic views, and aesthetic values”, in an amount to be determined at a trial by jury.

Rey Fire.
Rey Fire, August 21, 2016. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.


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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

One thought on “Lawsuit filed against Southern California Edison for allegedly causing the Rey Fire”

  1. SCE started those three fires mentioned AND ALSO STARTED THE “EASY” FIRE IN SIMI VALLEY.

    They should not just be sued, SCE should be banished from existence. PEOPLE LOST THEIR LIVES!


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