Southern California Edison and two other companies have reached a settlement agreement, agreeing to pay $22 million to resolve federal claims related to a 2016 wildfire.
The fire, known as the Rey Fire, burned a significant portion of the Los Padres National Forest, and the U.S. Department of Justice has confirmed that the settlement amount will cover both the fire’s damages and the costs associated with firefighting efforts. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the blaze was ignited by a fallen power line belonging to Southern California Edison. While the companies have agreed to the settlement, they have not admitted any wrongdoing or fault in the incident.
The fire on August 18, 2016, north of Santa Barbara, destroyed over 50 square miles (129 square kilometers) of land. The U.S. government filed a lawsuit against Southern California Edison, Frontier Communications (which owned the communications lines affected), and Utility Tree Service (a contracted tree-trimming company), alleging that they were aware of the potential danger but failed to maintain their equipment or take preventative action adequately, AP News stated.
After deliberation, the parties involved decided to dismiss the lawsuit and reached a settlement agreement, which the U.S. Department of Justice approved in May. The total settlement amount has been received by this week, according to the department.
It is worth noting that California utilities have faced scrutiny for their involvement in several large and destructive wildfires in recent years, often attributed to neglect of power lines and equipment. These incidents have resulted in substantial fines, settlement payments, and criminal charges. Notably, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) had all charges dismissed in May for a 2020 fatal wildfire caused by its equipment. PG&E also reached a $50 million settlement with the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office. Additionally, former executives and directors of PG&E agreed to a $117 million settlement last year to resolve a lawsuit connected to devastating 2017 and 2018 wildfires ignited by the utility’s equipment.