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Coastal Fire: Lawsuit claims SoCal Edison equipment sparked Orange County fire that destroyed homes

California Wildfires laguna niguel coastal fire
Posted at 11:29 AM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 14:30:12-04

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. (CNS) - One week after the Coastal Fire erupted in Laguna Niguel, eventually spreading across 200 acres and destroying 20 homes and damaging 11 others, a group of residents impacted by the blaze are suing Southern California Edison, accusing the utility's equipment of sparking the blaze.

No official cause of the fire has been announced.

The residents contend, however, in an Orange County Superior Court lawsuit filed Tuesday that the blaze "was the result of (Edison's) refusal to implement sufficient vegetation management programs, repair and update electrical hardware and adopt modern wildfire prevention practices as required by state laws, state regulations, federal laws, federal regulations and well- established industry standards."

In response to the lawsuit, SCE spokesman Reggie Kumar told City News Service, "Our thoughts are with the community members whose homes have been damaged and those who were evacuated because of the Coastal Fire, and we are coordinating with fire agencies as needed to ensure firefighter safety. It would be inappropriate to discuss any possible litigation."

The Coastal Fire broke out the afternoon of May 11 near the South Orange County Wastewater Authority's Coastal Treatment Plant and, fueled by wind and thick brush, marched up a hillside into an exclusive neighborhood of ocean-view multimillion-dollar homes.

At the height of the fire, 900 homes were evacuated. No civilian injuries were reported, but two firefighters suffered minor injuries from which they are recovering, fire officials said.

The fire was declared fully contained on Tuesday.

While the cause remains under investigation, SCE last week notified the California Public Utilities Commission that it experienced "circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time" of the fire, but it was uncertain if it contributed to the start of the fire.

"We submitted an initial Electric Safety Incident Report to the California Public Utilities Commission. SCE is required to submit an ESIR to the CPUC on certain types of incidents," SCE spokesman David Song said last week. "... Our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire. ... The submission of this report to the CPUC is intended to put them on notice of an incident so that it can conduct its own investigation."

The lawsuit filed Tuesday concedes that the cause of the fire remains under investigation, but it walks through a timeline of events and allegations it contends points to SCE as the responsible party.

"Based on our investigation to date and discussions with our consultants, we are informed and we strongly believe that the failure of the utility's equipment was responsible for the tragic loss of the victims' homes and their displacement," attorney Richard Bridgford said in a statement. "Once again, the utility's failure to underground their dangerous electrical wires or to properly maintain their equipment has turned the lives of innocent homeowners completely upside down."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.