Lawsuit alleges utility company is responsible for deadly McKinney fire

Residents of Northern California allege that sparks from PacifiCorp’s power lines and other equipment ignited last month’s deadly McKinney Fire near the California-Oregon border in Siskiyou County, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this week.

The McKinney Fire has burned more than 60,000 acres in rural Siskiyou County since it began on July 29. Four people died as the fire swept through the area and hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed, according to authorities. The official cause of the fire, which is 95% contained, is still under investigation.

PacifiCorp, owned by Warren Buffett’s holding company Berkshire Hathaway Energy, operates a power grid in Oregon, Washington and Northern California. The utility told California regulators that it operates a power line that runs near Highway 96 in Siskiyou County, where the McKinney Fire is believed to have started, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported.

Residents whose homes and property were destroyed or damaged by the fire allege the utility company “negligently, recklessly and willfully failed” to inspect and maintain its equipment in dry vegetation, their filing in Sacramento Superior Court Monday said Complaint. They argue PacifiCorp should have been aware that the conditions around its equipment, as well as the high winds and low humidity, were a hazard that led to the wildfire.

“This wildfire was not the result of acts of God or acts of God,” the lawsuit states. “This wildfire was started by sparks from high-voltage power lines, distribution lines, accessories and other electrical equipment in PacifiCorp’s utility infrastructure that ignited surrounding vegetation.”

The lawsuit, filed by San Diego-based law firm Singleton Schreiber, names 25 plaintiffs. They claim the utility “put profits ahead of safety” and was aware of the extreme fire risk in the surrounding areas where the blaze broke out.

Attorney Gerald Singleton said the fire was “entirely preventable” and his firm believes the failure of the utility’s equipment caused the fire.

“Each fire season, California is swamped with deaths, injuries, financial disasters, charred homes and shattered lives because utilities like PacifiCorp prioritize profits over safety,” Singleton said in a written statement. “This is the second time in the past two years that PacifiCorp has started a fire that killed citizens of Siskiyou County.”

PacifiCorp did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The McKinney Fire raged along the Northern California border and in the Klamath National Forest. It was fueled by intense heat, dry vegetation and low humidity.

Four separate times, plumes of smoke from the flames rose beyond the altitude at which a typical jet aircraft flies, penetrating the stratosphere and injecting a plume of soot and ash miles above the Earth’s surface. It’s a phenomenon known as the pyrocumulonimbus cloud, a byproduct of fire that NASA once memorably described as “the fire-breathing dragon of clouds.”

Los Angeles Times writer Corinne Purtill contributed to this story. Lawsuit alleges utility company is responsible for deadly McKinney fire

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