Fueled by intense ocean winds, the Coastal Fire ignited at 2:43 pm Wednesday, May 11th, and burned at least 20 Laguna Niguel homes in a single day. With the fire at zero percent containment, as many as 900 other homes in the area have been evacuated.
While Southern California now faces year-round fire danger, initial reports indicate that electrical circuit activity may be to blame for igniting the brush fire. According to a communication from Southern California Edison (SCE) to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC): “the cause of the fire is under investigation and has reportedly consumed over 150 acres and has destroyed multiple residential structures. Our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire. Our investigation is ongoing.”
Email From SCE Reporting Circuit Activity
The CPUC will conduct its own investigation. In the meantime, the fire rages on, burning through at least 200 acres.
If powerlines or other electrical equipment are found to be the cause of the Coastal Fire, it will be another in a long line of California Wildfires attributed to utility companies. In fact, since 2015, powerlines have caused six of the 20 most destructive wildfires in California. Many have wondered if enough is being done to prevent them.
In a March 2022 report, state auditors indicated that the major utility companies’ wildfire prevention plans have been seriously deficient and that the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety approved them anyway. According to the report, the utility companies have made improvements, but only addressed four percent of high-risk powerlines.
California is at a higher risk of wildfires and more frequent power shutoffs in part because of the nearly 40,000 miles of bare power lines in areas where there is a greater threat of wildfire. In 2020, the six utilities reported completing hardening projects — improvements to make electrical equipment more fire-resistant or to reduce the risk of them igniting a fire — on only 1,540 miles of lines.
What Should I Do if I Lost My Home?
While it is still early and the danger posed by the fire is still high, it may be in the best interests of property owners who have lost their homes or suffered property damage to speak with an attorney. Very few people have gone through an experience like this before and an attorney can help protect your rights, provide answers, and help you move forward.
Documenting your losses, finding alternate housing (whether temporary or permanent), transportation, and emergency services, is stressful and can be extremely difficult. It is important to preserve any receipts, correspondence, or documentation during this time, as this information may help with an insurance issue later. If an investigation shows that Southern California Edison equipment was responsible for igniting the Coastal Fire, they may be financially responsible for your property losses, injuries, medical bills and more.
At Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP, we have significant experience representing clients who have suffered catastrophic losses in California wildfires. Our attorneys have served in leadership roles in litigation against SCE, PG&E, and other utility companies in wildland fire cases and have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of clients. We handle all cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning there are no upfront fees to our clients for our services. When you are able, call (310) 477-1700 for a free and confidential case evaluation.