Southern California Edison (SoCal), the City of Ventura, and the regions’ Casitas and Montecito Municipal Water Districts are alleged to blame for one of Southern California’s largest wildfires, and its aftermath – deadly mudslides in Montecito. This is according to two class-action lawsuits brought on behalf of multiple victims, who lost homes, were unable to work, and whose loved ones died.
George Lewis vs. Southern California Edison Company filed December 15, 2017, in Ventura County Superior Court, alleges that during their construction activities in Santa Paula, Calif., SoCal employees failed to “ensure that surrounding trees and vegetation were trimmed and kept at a safe distance.” This negligence, the complaint states, caused the area’s dry vegetation to ignite. Plaintiffs’ attorneys also claim that the electricity provided by the City of Ventura and Casitas Municipal Water District was not adequate to power water pumping stations and fire hydrants.
As a result, the 8,500 firefighters battling what turned out to be the fifth largest fire in California history, were not able to contain the blaze early on. Nearly 100,000 residents in a 17-mile area were forced to evacuate.
The subsequent lawsuit, filed January 12, 2018, In Superior Court of Santa Barbara County, blames SoCal and The Montecito Water District for the Montecito mudslides that buried and closed Highway 101 in much of Santa Barbara County. According to the complaint, the Thomas Fire made the area vulnerable to runoff excesses, as well as erosion debris and mud flows during heavy rains.
The Thomas Fire claimed two lives and destroyed 281,000 acres and 1,000 properties. The Montecito mudslides were far deadlier, killing at least 20 people, destroying 1,000 homes, and damaging thousands more. Cost estimates of the dual disaster, in firefighting efforts, and land and property damage, well exceed $100 million.
Westlake Village Attorneys Robinson & Associates filed both lawsuits, joined for the second by attorney Joseph Liebman, and the law firm of Foley, Bezek, Behle & Curtis, LLP, both of Santa Barbara.
According to Southern California Edison, the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), additional fire agencies, and the California Public Utilities Commission are investigating. The fire’s official cause has yet to be determined.