Families sue SoCal Edison over deadly Fairview fire in Hemet

Several families have filed a lawsuit against Southern California Edison alleging that the utility failed to properly shut down its power lines and caused the deadly Fairview fire in Hemet, which destroyed dozens of buildings.

The fire ignited near Fairview Avenue and Bautista Canyon Road on Sept. 5 and had burned 28,307 acres and was 98% contained as of Wednesday, the final day for data, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire killed two people and displaced tens of thousands of residents following mandatory evacuations. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday, the California Public Utilities Commission authorized Southern California Edison and other utilities to shut down their power grids to prevent wildfires in high fire risk areas. Edison is accused of not having turned off circuits.

The families alleged in the lawsuit that “the Fairview fire could have been prevented if SCE had acted responsibly.”

Southern California Edison spokesman David Eisenhauer confirmed that the utility had submitted an initial report of electrical safety incidents to the Public Utilities Commission, in which he said “circuit activity occurred shortly before the fire’s reported start time.”

According to the lawsuit, Edison identified its 12 kV distribution circuit in Sprague as “active” when the fire broke out. Eisenhauer could not provide any more precise information.

“Our thoughts are with those affected by the Fairview fire, particularly those who have lost loved ones and have suffered injuries,” he said.

Guillermo Figueroa and Maria Velazco, one of the families who have sued Edison, said the fire destroyed their 14.5-acre property and horse ranch on Gibbel Road. They say the fire also killed three of their horses and seven of their dogs, and injured two other dogs.

The fire destroyed the family’s vehicles and landscaping equipment used in Figueroa’s landscaping business, the lawsuit says. The family said their property was also damaged by mudslides caused by Tropical Storm Kay, which brought thunderstorms and rain to Southern California.

“The area where the fire started is designated as a ‘High Fire Threat District – Tier 3,’ meaning people and property are at extreme risk from a utility wildfire,” said Alexander Robertson, an attorney for the families. “Despite this extreme risk and during an historic heat wave, low humidity and high winds, SCE did not de-energize its power lines in the area where the fire broke out.”

Ignacio Hernandez, Sarah Hernandez and their three children are also suing Edison, saying the Fairview fire destroyed their three-acre Gibbel Road property. It burned their vehicles, their home’s roof, solar and electric panels, as well as landscaping and trees, they said. The fire also killed their chickens and injured their dog.

Alexandra Lopez and Rodrigo Arias, who also live on Gibbel Road, said the fire damaged their property and injured Lopez’s ankle during the evacuation. She was hospitalized for her injuries.

The fire killed two people identified as Ian Compton, 40, and his daughter Mikayla Porter, who died in their car trying to escape the fire.

Tina Compton, Ian’s wife, was found badly burned in front of the car, taken to hospital and is expected to survive, according to a friend who asked not to be named.

Southern California Edison last year agreed to pay more than half a billion dollars in penalties and fines for its role in the Thomas, Woolsey, Rye, Meyers and Liberty fires that collectively destroyed thousands of homes and burned more than 380,000 acres.

The utility was also sued in May by a group of Orange County homeowners who allege Edison’s faulty equipment caused the coastal fire that destroyed more than 20 homes in Laguna Niguel Families sue SoCal Edison over deadly Fairview fire in Hemet

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