Laguna Niguel residents whose homes were burned in a wildfire last week are suing Southern California Edison, claiming that the utility’s equipment is to blame for the destructive fire.
The blaze, dubbed the Coastal Fire, broke out on May 11 in Aliso Woods Canyon, forcing hundreds of residents to flee as the fire advanced on an upscale gated community with multimillion-dollar homes.
Fanned by offshore winds and fueled by dry vegetation, the fire exploded to nearly 200 acres, destroyed 20 homes and damaged 11 others in the seaside community.
While the cause of the fire remains under investigation, Southern California Edison told state regulators in an initial report that electrical “circuit activity” occurred around the time the destructive fire started.
“Our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire. Our investigation is ongoing,” the utility said in the report to the California Public Utilities Commission.
The complaint filed against Edison claims that around 2:41 p.m. on the day the fire started, the utility’s online map reported a “repair outage” northwest of Coronado Pointe in Laguna Niguel.
The homeowners believe the Coastal Fire started “with negligently operated, repaired, and maintained electrical equipment, as well as poor electrical and fire safety practices,” according to the complaint.
“Based on our investigation to date and discussions with our consultants, we are informed and we strongly believe that the failure of the utility‘s equipment was responsible for the tragic loss of the victims‘ homes and their displacement,” attorney Richard Bridgford said in an email. “Once again, the utility’s failure to underground their dangerous electrical wires or to properly maintain their equipment has turned the lives of innocent homeowners completely upside down.”
More than 900 homes were evacuated as the fire approached, gutting multiple homes beyond repair.
“The Coastal Fire damaged Plaintiffs’ real and personal property, forced them to evacuate their home for many days, and caused each of them emotional distress,” the suit sates.
Electrical equipment has been blamed for igniting some California’s most destructive wildfires.
Last year, California regulators approved a settlement placing more than half a billion dollars in fines and penalties on Edison for its role in five wildfires in 2017 and 2018, including the Thomas and Woolsey fires.
SoCal Edison spokeswoman Reggie Kumar said the utility is coordinating with fire agencies and added that it is not appropriate to discuss any possible litigation.
“Our thoughts are with the community members whose homes have been damaged and those who were evacuated because of the Coastal Fire, and we are coordinating with fire agencies as needed to ensure firefighter safety,” Kumar said. “It would be inappropriate to discuss any possible litigation.”