You’ve likely read the stories in your local paper or news outlet about wildfire lawsuits. Often, a utility somehow fails to properly care for its property, then the fun begins.
Wires fall, transformers explode, wind destroys power lines… then dry underbrush catches fire.
In most wildfire lawsuits, these are the details. While PG&E is the most frequent violator in California, utilities all over the nation face the same issues. But, these aren’t the only major lawsuits involving wildfires, just the most common.
|Fire Name||State||Acres Burned||Structures Destroyed||Deaths||Settlement Amount|
|Thomas Fire||California||281,893||$1.2 billion|
|High Park Fire||Colorado||87,247||259||$450 million|
|Waldo Canyon Fire||Colorado||18,247||346||2||$450 million|
|Florence/Sour Biscuit Complex Fire||Oregon||499,750||14||$150 million|
|Cerro Grande Fire||New Mexico||48,000||420||$115 million|
|Missionary Ridge Fire||Colorado||71,739||47||1||$78.8 million|
|Black Forest Fire||Colorado||14,198||509||$60 million|
|McNally Fire||California||150,700||17||$56 million|
|Mustang Complex Fire||Idaho||332,557||$55.5 million|
|Bear Springs Complex Fire||Colorado||46,257||$40 million|
|B&B Complex Fires||Oregon||90,769||0||0||$38 million|
|Bighorn Fire||Arizona||119,987||$37 million|
|Rodeo-Chediski Fire||Arizona||467,066||500||1||$29.7 million|
|West Fork Complex Fire||Colorado||110,405||$20 million|
|Aspen Fire||Arizona||84,750||325||$17 million|
|Las Conchas Fire||New Mexico||156,293||63||$15 million|
|Old Fire||California||91,281||993||6||13.5 million|
|Ponil Complex Fire||New Mexico||92,000||$11.5 million|
|Little Bear Fire||New Mexico||44,330||234||$11.5 million|
|Anderson Creek Fire||Kansas and Oklahoma||367,620||$2 million|
|Yarnell Hill Fire||Arizona||1,300||13||$670,000|
|Ash Creek Fire||Montana||248,000||$500,000|
|Mt. Zirkel Complex Fire||Colorado||31,016||700||14||$229,700|
A 2021 report by Verisk (which provides expert data-driven insights for businesses) claimed California was the leading state in America at risk for wildfires. Verisk stated more than 2 million properties were at risk of burning. The second and third most at-risk states were Texas and Colorado respectively. However, Texas, with the second-most people in America and a similar size land-mass had less than 1 million properties at risk.
Another state at risk is North Carolina. It had more than 5,100 wildfires in a relatively short period of time.
In 2022, NPR reported that PG&E agreed to pay more than $55 million to avoid criminal prosecution for two wildfires sparked by its NorCal power lines, and they submitted to 5 years of oversight. These two fires, the Dixie Fire and the Kincade Fire, destroyed trees, homes, structures and lives.
In the Paradise Fire, PG&E was once again the focus of the blame. The Camp Fire in in Northern California burned 135,000 acres and was blames for at lest 56 people killed and a loss of more than 9,000 structures. A lawsuit was filed against PG&E in San Francisco Superior Court that accuses the massive utility of causing the destructive wildfire. More than 100 people had also gone missing, and the final death count was known to be inaccurate because of this.
Wildfires in Butte, Napa, Lake, Mendocino and several other Northern California counties have led to several lawsuits against PG&E.
In September of 2022, the utility’s ex-executives agreed to pay $117 million to settle a different lawsuit over wildfires. This was part of a $13.5 billion settlement with PG&E that was reached for victims of wildfires.
But all over California, lawsuits are happening – and not just because of the fires themselves. Fires are usually followed by mudslides which are also destructive.
Mosquito Fire Lawsuit – PG&E equipment was blamed for California’s largest wildfire in 2022. According to the Sacramento Bee, the Mosquito Fire had charged almost 100,000 acres and faulty equipment was blamed for starting the blaze.
There was a lawsuit involving the McKinney Fire which burned more than 100 homes in Siskiyou County. Homeowners sued utility PacifiCorp claiming the company’s faulty equipment sparked the deadly fire. The lawsuit was filed in Sacramento Superior Court with homeowners accusing PacifiCorp of negligently, recklessly, and willfully” failing to properly take care of its equipment.
The Thomas Wildfire erupted in Ventura County in 2017 and destroyed 280,000 acres in both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties before being contained. It also burned more than 1,000 homes and businesses. It took more than 8,500 firefighters to combat and put the fire out. The estimated cost to taxpayers was $173 million. Lawsuits were filed against Southern California Edison for alleged equipment failures.
There were lawsuits filed after the Woolsey Fire, both against utilities and against insurance companies for failing to properly pay out to property insurance consumers. More than 250,000 acres were burned in the Woolsey fire, displacing more than 100,000 people.
In 2023, a jury in Oregon ruled Pacific Power was negligent in the devastating 2020 Labor Day wildfires. It was ordered to pay $70 million to 17 homeowners who sued PacifiCorp.
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative was sued in Texas in 2011 after the Bastrop fires near Austin occurred.
In Nevada, inmates who worked to put fires out sued after they suffered second-degree burns injuries on their feet that went untreated. They sued the Nevada Division of Forestry and the Nevada Department of Corrections for putting them in that position.
In 2014, property owners in Arizona sued the state itself over wildfires that skilled 19 firefighters. 160 property owners sued the state of Arizona claiming the state’s own mismanagement caused lived to be lost and homes and businesses to be destroyed.
The cost of wildfires has skyrocketed according to Statista, making these lawsuits an even bigger fight. In California, it cost roughly $25 million for California to implement fire suppression and damage, but now that number is over $400 million.