California Utility Fined $550 Million for Five Wildfires

by Hannah Heser
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(Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

A California utility company is in legal hot water. Officials in the state reached a settlement on Thursday. Southern California Edison utility faces around $550 million in fines. Southern California Edison serves 15 million customers and is one of the state’s three major investor utilities. Officials determined the utility company played a role in five wildfires between 2017 and 2018.

First of all, the fines relate to the Thomas, Woolsey, Rye, Myers, and Liberty fires. The Thomas fire devastated both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. State fire officials say it is the eighth largest fire in California’s history. In fact, the fire scorched more than 439 square miles.

Ventura County also saw the eighth-most destructive fire as well in state history. The Woolsey fire destroyed more than 1,600 businesses. Meanwhile, the Rye fire started in Santa Clarita, which is the Liberty Fire in Murrieta. And the Meyers fire occurred in San Bernardino County. Both of these fires happened in early December 2017.

What Started the Fires

Investigators reportedly found the company played a major role in starting the fires. Southern California Edison reached a settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division.

But that settlement will cost them. For instance, shareholders in the utility will pay a $110 million penalty to the state’s fund. They must also pay towards safety measures as well to ensure future incidents don’t happen. That bill will cost them $65 million. Additionally, the company must refrain from striking back against the $125 million in claims by taxpayers. Many of those are insurance claims relate to both the Thomas and Woosley fires.

Southern California Edison

California has made headlines in recent years due to the destructive nature of the state’s wildfires. Drought conditions have made a bad situation worse for many. But the CPUC’s safety and enforcement division believed the company played a significant role in five wildfires. For instance, they belive the utility violated state safety regulations. These all adhere to design, construction and also the maintenance of electrical lines and equipment.

But according to the agreement, the state is resolving all claims against the company related to the fires. Ben Gallagher, an SCE spokesman told Yahoo News this agreement is fair and reasonable.

“It puts one additional uncertainty behind us as the utility continues to implement its comprehensive wildfire risk mitigation measures,” Gallagher said.

2021 Fire Season

The fire season in California and all over the west coast is beginning earlier and ending later in the year. Scientists believe climate change plays a major factor since warmer spring and summer temperatures create longer, as well as more intense dry seasons. This increases the moisture in the air and makes forests produce wildfires regularly.

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