Crime - Sacto 911

2 Butte fire victims sue PG&E over losses

PG&E crews replace power poles earlier this month in the burned-out area of Mokelumne Hill blackened by the Butte fire in Calaveras County.
PG&E crews replace power poles earlier this month in the burned-out area of Mokelumne Hill blackened by the Butte fire in Calaveras County. rbenton@sacbee.com

A Southern California law firm announced that it has filed a civil lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on behalf of two Calaveras County residents who are victims of the Butte fire.

Plaintiffs Brian Moeller and Jolene Stewart were renters and represent separate households, said attorney Gerald Singleton of the Singleton Law Firm, based in Solana Beach. Singleton said Moeller and Stewart lost all their belongings and were rendered homeless by the fire, which started Sept. 9 in Amador County and quickly spread into Calaveras County. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Calaveras Superior Court.

Although the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is still investigating the cause of the fire, PG&E officials have said that a tree may have contacted a PG&E line in the area where the fire started and have indicated that the utility is cooperating with the Cal Fire investigation.

The lawsuit names as defendants PG&E and Trees Inc., a firm contracted by the utility to maintain trees in the area of its power lines. The complaint alleges that the Butte fire was caused by negligent and improper operation of the power lines and equipment, and negligent failure to “maintain vegetation with prescribed California regulations and law concerning vegetation clearance from power lines and electrical infrastructure.”

Moeller and Stewart seek damages for, among other things, loss of property, loss of wages and related displacement expenses, as well as general damages for personal injury and emotional distress.

PG&E issued a statement Tuesday saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the individuals who lost their homes in this fire. We are going to continue supporting our customers and working with our first responder partners and the state of California to improve fire safety and response. We will respond to this lawsuit in the normal legal process. As we’ve said since Sept. 16, we are cooperating fully with Cal Fire in its investigation of the ignition for the Butte Fire.”

PG&E officials further stated that the company takes the risk of wildfires very seriously and is focused on doing everything possible to reduce the risk of fire during this drought.

Singleton said the plaintiffs hope to obtain temporary housing through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The attorney said he has been contacted by other Butte fire victims and likely will be amending the lawsuit or filing additional complaints. Singleton said he has represented victims of other major fires in litigation involving utility companies in San Diego and Los Angeles counties.

The Butte fire was reported 96 percent contained Tuesday with 70,868 acres consumed. Cal Fire reported 475 residences and 343 outbuildings were destroyed by the fire, and 45 structures were damaged. Two people died in the fire and one person was injured.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy

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