Public Utilities Reports

PUR Guide 2012 Fully Updated Version

Available NOW!
PUR Guide

This comprehensive self-study certification course is designed to teach the novice or pro everything they need to understand and succeed in every phase of the public utilities business.

Order Now

Smothering Sparks

Enhanced standards of care for companies operating in fire-prone terrain.

Fortnightly Magazine - October 2010

disruption of services, and disruption of business patterns all create outrage over agency policies, practices, and equipment availability. Many affected parties have sought relief from those losses in the courts, and the courts frequently look toward complicit parties to provide that relief. Energy suppliers and utility companies have become regularly involved as defendants in such cases. And the claims, fines, and settlements have become enormous.

Utilities are involved in many examples of cost-recovery efforts, many resulting in multi-million dollar fines and settlements from across the United States.

• Lack of adequate clearance near a power line in Butte County, not far from Lake Oroville, was identified as the cause of a fire that consumed over 8,000 acres in timber, brush and grass. The result was the destruction of 47 residences and 15 injuries. The utility company and the tree-trimming company ultimately reimbursed the State of California just over $10 million.

• In 1996, a major southern California utility company was billed $7.9 million for fire suppression costs for the Calabasas fire. This cost was reduced to $6.55 million in a settlement negotiated just prior to trial in 2003. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) determined the fire was caused when a eucalyptus branch was bent by the wind into a lightning arrester.

• In 1990, a major northern California utility company was billed $8.2 million by Cal Fire. The Campbell Fire burned over 125,000 acres and destroyed 27 structures in Tehama County. Cal Fire determined the fire was caused by a tree limb that made contact with a 500-kV power line. It was alleged that vegetation hadn’t been maintained properly to the 10-foot clearance around the power line as required by law. The parties negotiated a settlement of $5 million.

• In Nevada County, a major utility company was the first to face criminal prosecution for violating the 1963 state statute requiring utility companies to maintain power-line clearances up to 10 feet around high-voltage power lines. The failure to maintain clearance around facilities was alleged to cause the 1994 Trauner Fire. Five percent of the company’s overhead lines consequently were surveyed in 1995, and 5,093 instances were documented showing tree-line contact in which branches were directly touching or within four feet of the power lines.

• The settlement of dozens of claims from the destruction of hundreds of homes and thousands of acres in San Diego county from three separate, but closely spaced, fires in 2007 resulted in nearly $1billion in costs to a major southern California utility company for purported responsibilities from arcing and downed lines.

• The Wilderness Ridge Fire in Bastrop County Texas is the focus of a claim against the local utility provider with the assertion that inadequate preparation was a major contributor to the loss of the use of a campground. Plaintiffs are seeking $8 million in damages.

As evidenced, various states’ attorneys general, the federal Department of Justice, and many state and local-level fire agencies have established cost-recovery units. Many citizen groups, environmental protection agencies and watchdog groups regularly file legal actions