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Top five largest wildfires started by utility companies in California history

Recent wildfires sparked by power companies have had sweeping legal ramifications – including lawsuits, litigation and settlements.

The Dixie Fire is the largest single wildfire in California state history. While the official cause of the Dixie Fire is still under investigation, it is known to have started after a blown fuse on a PG&E utility pole was struck by a fallen tree on July 13, 2021.

The massive fire surrounded Lake Almanor in July 2021 and continued to burn through September, spreading across Butte County, Plumas County, Lassen County, and Tehama County. A PG&E lawsuit could yield a record settlement for Dixie Fire victims seeking compensation for injuries, damages, and losses.

What were the other largest California wildfires? What was the largest settlement ever reached over culpability for a California wildfire? Which utility companies have been sued for their roles in causing wildfires?

Below, we’ll look at the rest of the top-5 largest wildfires sparked by utility companies in California state history, what caused them, and what (if any) lawsuits were filed as a result, as well as what kind of settlements were reached.

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1. Dixie Fire

The official cause of the Dixie Fire is under investigation, but as the largest single wildfire in the history of the state, it would be the largest wildfire caused by a utility company, if PG&E is determined to be at fault. Dixie Fire lawsuits are currently being prepared.

As of September 1, 2021, the Dixie Fire has burned nearly 775,000 acres and is about 50% contained. Full details can be found here.

Singleton Schreiber Seek Dixie Fire Compensation for Victims of the Largest Fire Caused by a Utility Company

There will likely be hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals who suffer Dixie Fire damages, but determining exactly what kind of settlement may be reached is still a long way off, as investigations are ongoing and damages are being assessed.

Many California wildfire lawyers are preparing multitudes of unique cases for Dixie Fire victims experiencing personal injuriesproperty damage, or property loss. Depending on the circumstances, compensation for Dixie Fire victims can range from tens of thousands to tens of millions of dollars. 

PG&E has hundreds of millions of dollars available in insurance policies and can borrow additional funds if necessary to fully compensate Dixie Fire victims for all damages incurred. The utility came out of bankruptcy last summer and put $5.4 billion and 22.19% of its stock into a trust for victims of wildfires caused by its equipment, but that stock has plummeted after the subsequent wildfires.

2. Thomas Fire

But the Dixie Fire is just one of many recent fires caused by utility companies. The 2017 Thomas Fire burned more than 281,000 acres and destroyed over 1,060 structures in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. It started when Southern California Edison (SCE) power lines in the Upper Analauf Canyon collided, sending molten metal particles onto the dry vegetation below.

About a month later, mudslides triggered by heavy rains destroyed more than 100 homes in Montecito – all damage that would have been prevented had the Thomas Fire not stripped the hillside of all vegetation.

In September 2020, Thomas Fire lawsuits against SCE yielded a $1.16 billion settlement with insurance companies who sued over the Thomas and the Montecito Mudslide disasters in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

3. Witch Fire

The 2007 Witch Fire burned more than 190,000 acres in northeast San Diego County after Santa Ana winds blew down a power line in Witch Creek Canyon near Santa Ysabel. The fire spread past Ramona through the San Pasqual Valley to Rancho Bernardo, Poway, and Escondido, as well as Rancho Santa Fe and Lake Hodges.

The Witch Fire caused $1.3 billion in insured damages alone and became the fourth largest wildfire in California history, as well as the third-most destructive.

4. Laguna Fire

The oldest fire on the list, the 1970 Laguna Fire – also known as the Kitchen Creek Fire and the Boulder Oaks Fire – scorched more than 175,000 acres through the Laguna Mountains in east San Diego County. It was started when Santa Ana winds brought down power lines in the Kitchen Creek area of the Laguna Mountains. It burned through the towns of El Cajon and Spring Valley.

The Laguna Fire caused more than $234 million in damages back in 1970 – not adjusted for inflation – and $5.6 million worth of residential property damage. At the time, it was the third-largest fire in the history of California.

5. Camp Fire

The Dixie Fire has spread through remote land in Butte County, about 100 miles north of Sacramento, very close to the burn scars of the infamous 2018 Camp Fire, which was also caused by PG&E equipment failures. The Camp Fire is the deadliest and the most destructive fire in California history. It burned over 153,000 acres in Butte County, destroying more than 18,000 structures and causing 85 civilian fatalities, as well as several firefighter injuries.

In December 2019, PG&E announced a $13.5 billion settlement for victims of the Camp Fire and several other fires sparked by the company’s equipment around the same time, including the Tubbs Fire in 2017, the Butte Fire in 2015, and the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire in 2016. The company had previously estimated its potential liability at up to $30 billion when it filed for bankruptcy a year before the settlement was announced.

More Recent Wildfires Caused by Power Companies Have Brought California Wildfire Lawsuits

Zogg Fire

In May of 2021, PG&E announced it had reached a $12 million settlement with two Northern California counties – Shasta County and Tehama County – for damage caused by the 2020 Zogg Fire. The Zogg Fire was caused by a pine tree contacting PG&E transmission lines. The 56,000-acre fire killed four people and destroyed more than 200 buildings.


Kincade Fire

At the same time that PG&E announced the Zogg Fire settlement, they also announced a $31 million payout to eight public entities to settle civil claims related to the 2019 Kincade Fire, which scorched more than 77,758 acres in Sonoma County. The 120 sq.-mile blaze damaged more than 400 buildings near Geyserville and seriously injured six firefighters.


Woolsey Fire

The 2018 Woolsey Fire in Ventura County and Los Angeles County was sparked by Southern California Edison (SCE) equipment and eventually burned nearly 97,000 acres, killing three people and destroying more than 1,600 structures.

Woolsey Fire lawsuit is alleging negligence on the part of SCE in causing the fire, and claims are currently being filed.

Singleton Schreiber Fights for Wildfire Victims

In any fire case, it is important to know who is liable and whether your insurance will pay for damages. An experienced fire litigation attorney is essential to getting you the compensation you deserve and helping you move on with your life.

The experienced wildfire attorneys at Singleton Schreiber will fight for every victim of the Dixie Fire or any other wildfire started by a power company like PG&E. If you’ve been affected by a wildfire, schedule your free claim evaluation and find out how we can help you.

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