As California recovers from a series of massive wildfires, initial investigations seem to indicate that the deadly Camp Fire may have begun as a result of faulty electrical equipment belonging to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E).

The utility company filed an incident report with the state California Public Utilities Commission Friday afternoon saying a high voltage line near the rural Concow area in Butte County suffered an outage at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8.

PG&E previously had informed the PUC of another high-voltage line outage a few miles away near Pulga that occurred at 6:15 a.m. that morning. That initial incident happened minutes before Cal Fire officials say they got the first reports of a wildfire in the Pulga area that would swoop through Paradise, Concow and Magalia later that day.

As a result, PG&E is now the center of several lawsuits from victims of that blaze.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and its parent company were sued Tuesday in San Francisco County Superior Court by attorneys representing several victims of the Camp Fire, one of what will likely be multiple legal attempts to hold the utility responsible for the historic disaster.

The lawsuit accuses the San Francisco energy company of failing to properly maintain its infrastructure and equipment, and it claims those alleged missteps resulted in the ignition of the still-uncontained blaze in Butte County east of Chico.

Mike Danko, one of the attorneys involved in the case, believes his lawsuit is the first against PG&E in connection to the Camp Fire. He said Tuesday afternoon he expected others to be filed soon.

The most recent suit was filed on behalf of two elderly sisters who were trapped in the conflagration.

Sisters Barbara Carlson and Shirley Haley lived together in Paradise, California. Barbara had three children and seven grandchildren. On November 8, 2018, when the Camp Fire tore through Concow, Paradise, and the surrounding areas, Barbara and Shirley were trapped in their home, unable to escape. The elderly sisters tragically perished in the fire.

“This is a horrible tragedy, and one that we firmly believe could have been prevented,” said Amanda Riddle, one of the lead attorneys representing Camp Fire victims against PG&E. “PG&E has failed this family and it has failed our community.”

“The fire would not have happened but for PG&E’s practice of running its equipment to failure instead of keeping it properly maintained,” said Mike Danko. “For PG&E, corporate profits are a higher priority than the lives of its customers.”

The utility company could be under the threat of additional lawsuits for some time to come. Because so many synthetic materials were consumed during the fires, which generates toxic and potentially carcinogenic substances, residents exposed to the smoke could experience adverse health effects years from now.

While lung cancer is associated with long-term exposure to particle pollution and wood-fire smoke, it’s unclear how short-term exposure to such smoke, increasingly burning up residential areas, will affect people.

Few studies have examined exposure to wildfire smoke and long-term health effects, Rebecca Schmidt, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis, told The Washington Times.

…“The things we’re actually exposed to are a little bit unknown at this point,” she said. “It is likely very different than just traffic-related air pollution or ambient air pollution that’s been better studied.”

The California Department of Public Health lists a toxic combination of chemicals likely present in smoke that can be a risk factor for heart disease, cancer and neurological problems.

California has implemented numerous air pollution control regulations in the name of green justice and air quality control. Therefore, it is tragically ironic that the climate change policies prohibiting lumber operations and brush clearing have severely damaged the state’s natural resources and have potentially endangered the long-term health of its citizens.

Perhaps a clever lawyer could build a case against the state of California on behalf of wildfire victims? I assert that it bears some of the blame for the devastation.


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