More North Bay residents sue PG&E over wildfires

PG&E construction operator Anthony Virrueta, left, and gas foreman John Bacon work to clear burned power lines along O'Donnell Lane in Glen Ellen, on Wednesday, October 18, 2017. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

PAUL PAYNE,

The number of people suing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. over the devastating North Coast wildfires has multiplied to more than one hundred and is expected to grow into the thousands, a lawyer representing a Santa Rosa family said Wednesday.

Attorney Bill Robins said 107 people have filed nine separate complaints alleging the company’s high-voltage power lines caused the Sonoma County fires that destroyed almost 7,000 homes and killed 23 people.

The number has grown since Coffey Park residents Wayne and Jennifer Harvell were the first to sue the utility eight days after the Tubbs fire leveled their house.

Since then, Robins has filed suits on behalf of about 25 other fire victims. Another Southern California-based firm has 70 clients and several other Sonoma County residents have separate filings, he said.

Robins has asked San Francisco Superior Court to consolidate all the cases under one judge in anticipation of hundreds of more lawsuits.

“It’s important because we expect there to be thousands of cases,” he said.

Cal Fire is still investigating the cause of the fires which started Oct. 8 under hot, windy conditions. A PG&E spokesman said the company was continuing to comply with the investigation.

“We won’t speculate about any of the causes of the fires,” spokesman Donald Cutler said in an email Wednesday.

But state regulators Tuesday revealed that PG&E reported at least 17 “electric safety incidents” in eight counties the night of Oct. 8-9, including at least four locations in Sonoma County: Santa Rosa, Geyserville, Kenwood and Glen Ellen. It reported at least three locations in Napa County and one near Ukiah. The exact locations were redacted in the reports from the California Public Utilities Commission.

The reports said PG&E blamed heavy winds and downed trees for damaging its equipment.

Damage estimates for the fires have exceeded $3 billion.

Last year, a Cal Fire found PG&E responsible for the 2015 Butte fire, which destroyed 549 homes and killed two people. The fire was sparked by a tree that fell into a power line near the Amador County community of Jackson. The California Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $8.3 million for the fire, and the utility could be held liable for more than $1 billion in claims damages.

In 2015, regulators fined PG&E $1.6 billion for the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion, which killed eight people.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.