Utility to pay $360M for major Southern California wildfires

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California Edison has agreed to pay $360 million to local governments to settle lawsuits over deadly wildfires sparked by its equipment during the last two years, including one blamed for a mudslide that killed more than 20 people, the utility and attorneys announced Wednesday.

The sum will reimburse counties, cities and other public agencies for firefighting costs and repairing damage from two of the worst blazes in the region’s history. The figure will not fully repay taxpayer costs, but it will help pay the bills to rebuild roads, other infrastructure and clean up debris, among other things.

“While this is not 100%, it’s not pennies on the dollar,” said attorney John Fiske, who represents local governments. “A lot of these communities ... were hit very hard. In the aftermath of these wildfires, all sorts of public resources and taxpayer resources are lost.”

The Thomas Fire that broke out in dry brush in Ventura County was sparked when the utility’s power lines slapped together in high winds on Dec. 4, 2017. Two people were killed and 440 square miles (1,139 square kilometers) were burned.

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The area that was hit included a mountainside above the seaside city of Montecito, where a deluge a month later on fire-scarred terrain triggered a devastating mudslide that killed at least 21 people. Two people remain missing.

The Woolsey Fire started with the company’s equipment a year ago just outside Los Angeles and quickly spread to the coast, jumping a highway and crossing the Santa Monica Mountains into Malibu. It destroyed more than 1,600 structures — mostly homes — and killed three people.

The settlement does not include private lawsuits for deaths and homes destroyed.

The payout will be split among the counties of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles and includes the cities of Santa Barbara, Malibu, Calabasas, Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village.

The settlement is the most comprehensive in state history because it involves 23 public entities, Fiske said.

But the overall figure is dwarfed by the $1 billion settlement Pacific Gas & Electric reached with local governments in Northern California for fires its equipment caused in recent years. The damage from those fires, however, was much greater with more than 20,000 homes destroyed.