The lawsuit claims that PacifiCorp should have known to deenergize its power lines before a massive windstorm hit parts of Oregon.
Pacific Power and its parent company, PacifiCorp, are facing a class action alleging that their negligence caused a series of catastrophic wildfires.
According to OregonLive.com, the lawsuit was filed by three law firms located in the Pacific Northwest. The complaint’s lead plaintiffs—Jeanyne James and Robin Colbert, a Lyons, OR, couple—say they lost their home, four cars, and personal belongings during Labor Day weekend fires in and around Santiam Canyon.
The lawsuit claims that PacifiCorp received warning of “extremely critical” fire conditions days ahead of the holiday weekend.
While the weather forecast warned of “historic” high winds, PacifiCorp left its power lines across Oregon energized. When storms hit the state, power lines in Santiam Canyon—and other areas—toppled, igniting brush and starting wildfires.
“Many of these fires were not ignited by lightning or careless campers,” said Daniel Mensher, an attorney and partner at Keller Rohrback. “Instead, these fires were whipped to their overwhelming size by a series of ignitions caused by these defendants’ power lines.”
OPB notes that fire officials have already blamed power lines for at least 13 of Oregon’s September wildfires.
Dry conditions, coupled with high winds, created what OPB calls a “furnace-blast effect.” The winds stirred up smaller fires and rapidly accelerated their spread down canyons and ridges.
“Defendants’ energized power lines ignited massive, deadly and destructive fires that raced down the canyons, igniting and destroying homes, businesses, and schools,” the class action states. “These fires burned over hundreds of thousands of acres, destroyed thousands of structures, killed people and upended countless lives.”
PacifiCorp has yet to offer any extensive comment on the class action to the media.
In the past, PacifiCorp Vice President David Lucas has defended the company’s actions. Lucas said that, in some rare instances, PacifiCorp does cut power to areas with high fire risks.
“As we’ve learned through extensive, local community engagement, public safety power shutoff events must be properly planned and coordinated, so that our loss of power does not have unintended consequences of actually increasing public safety risk,” Lucas said.
Lucas said that some parts of Oregon simply did not meet the company’s risk-assessment protocol for cutting power supplies.
OregonLive.com notes that PacifiCorp is “hardly alone” in its legal woes. Numerous other utilities and services have since been sued for allegedly—if unintentionally—facilitating the spread of the wildfires.
Other, more local power companies—including the Lane Electric Cooperative, the Eugene Water and Electric Board, and the Bonneville Power Administration—all operated live, high-voltage wires in affected areas.
While the current class action targets only PacifiCorp, OregonLive.com suggests that other operators may too be sued for damages.