Abbey, Weitzenberg, Warren & Emery, PC has been a member of this community for over 100 years with a local, invested team right here in Sonoma County. We are dedicated to working diligently for you in order to restore our neighborhoods and community.
As wildfires continue to burn out of control in Northern California, we are here to ensure that families and businesses affected by these catastrophic fires are given a strong voice and that those responsible for their losses are held accountable. Our goal is to achieve individualized compensation for all of our clients. Call us for a free legal consultation today.
Northern California Wild Fires
We at Abbey, Weitzenberg, Warren & Emery, PC want to take this opportunity to express our sincerest condolences to those who have been directly impacted by the historic and tragic fires that have swept through our Northern California communities recently. Given the great sense of community for which Northern California communities are known, it is no surprise that aid efforts, from first responders to those involved in providing shelter, food, and clothing, have been so timely and generous. We also want to thank all of you who have inquired of our safety and provided your best wishes through this ordeal.
A number of members of the Abbey Weitzenberg family have lost their homes, many were evacuated, and we are all impacted in some way by these disasters. We are back at full strength and remain available to assist all of the firm’s clients with their pending and future legal needs. Our firm has sponsored informational town hall meetings following the fires to provide information to those who lost their homes. Our community at large remains strong and determined and we are here – and will remain – as we have for the past 100+ years.
Why Would Anyone Think PG&E is at Fault?
Some people point out that weather conditions were a factor in the spread of the fires. However, weather alone does not explain the origin of the fires. 90% of all wildfires are caused by humans – whether arson, cigarettes, or power lines.
Historically, a number of devastating wildfires have been found to originate from poorly maintained power lines and electrical equipment, which is likely the reason that Morgan Stanley and others project a 75% probability that PG&E will ultimately be found at fault for the Northern California fires.
PG&E, as a regulated utility, is charged with the responsibility for maintaining its poles, distribution lines, transformers, and recloser devices in a manner specified by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) General Order 95. PG&E’s poles must be engineered and maintained in a way that allows them to carry electricity safely. They are engineered to withstand winds of 56 miles per hour (in light loading zones) multiplied by a safety factor which means that they should actually withstand much higher winds. PG&E is responsible for trimming back vegetation around its lines and inspecting areas for dead or compromised trees that might fall on its lines. In short, power lines are dangerous and California’s regulations require PG&E to do regular maintenance and inspections to make sure its poles and lines can operate safely under any weather condition.
We have spearheaded past litigation against PG&E for its failures to properly maintain its equipment, and we’ve seen instances where money was siphoned away from maintenance into profits, or where PG&E allowed maintenance to fall through the cracks.
In the end, lawsuits exist to create accountability. Those responsible for causing the fires should compensate those harmed. Our firm is well established in wildfire litigation and representing clients in cases for fire-related financial loss, physical injury, and wrongful death against PG&E. For those who are interested, we are able to provide information, legal advice, and representation related to these liability issues.
Early Fire Calls Highlighted PG&E’s Involvement in the October 2017 Fires
Investigation indicates multiple calls of electric malfunctions between 9:20 PM and 11:00 PM. Review of 911 dispatch calls between 9:22 PM and 9:55 PM on the night of October 8, shows multiple calls were made to report electrical malfunctions. At 9:24 PM, a transformer explosion at Fulton Road and Old Redwood Highway was reported. Within 5 minutes, a structure fire as a result of the transformer explosion was reported. At 9:31 PM, a structure fire on Orange Avenue in Santa Rosa was reported in connection with a tree down and the wires down. By 9:48 PM, multiple fires had been reported. Between 9:51 PM and 10:20 PM, PG&E verified wires down in Geyserville. At 10:20 PM, an arcing transformer was reported on Beaver Street. By 11:00 PM, the Nuns fire was reported. By 11:00 PM, the Atlas Peak fire was nearly out of control.
PG&E “outage detail reports” for Santa Rosa tell a similar story: At 9:32 PM on October 8, field personnel found a downed power line in Santa Rosa on Redwood Highway. At 9:59 PM, a transformer overload was reported in the Santa Rosa Alta Vista neighborhood near Hillside and Opal Hill Drive. And 1:45 AM, PG&E field personnel found a downed power line in Santa Rosa at Montecito Avenue near Alta Vista Avenue. PG&E is required to keep and maintain records of outages and malfunction calls, and a “preservation letter” has been sent on behalf of wine country fire victims to make certain that all evidence is retained and preserved according to state law requirements.
PG&E Excuses and Defense
PG&E has made excuses and prepared its defense based upon false pretenses. For example, PG&E stated it was hurricane-strength winds, and not company negligence, which led to downed power lines on October 8 when the fires began. However, Saratoga meteorologist Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services noted that while winds were strong, they were not “hurricane force” and had been surpassed in previous storms. A Santa Rosa weather station showed wind speeds at the time of the fires also do not support the utility company’s statement.
PG&E, the giant San-Francisco-based utility company, has a history of noncompliance with state law in failing to do its due diligence to properly maintain equipment and adequately cut back trees from existing power lines in order to reduce the potential risk of fire. That is why PG&E is under investigation regarding whether it has violated criminal probation for which it was sentenced for past significant safety violations and crimes.
CalFire Has Determined PG&E Caused 12 Northern California Wildfires in October 2017
A CalFire News Release, dated June 8, 2018, determined that 12 wildfires in Mendocino, Humboldt, Butte, Sonoma, Lake, and Napa Counties were caused by PG&E’s electric power and distribution lines, conductors, and the failure of power poles.
These fires, which took place on October 8, 2017, and October 9, 2017, include the Atlas Fire in Napa County(which destroyed 783 structures and took the lives of 6 civilians); the Redwood Fire in Mendocino County (which destroyed 543 structures and took the lives of 9 civilians); the Nuns Fire (a series of fires that merged in Sonoma and Napa Counties, including Norrbom, Adobe, Patrick, Pythian, and Nuns Fires–which destroyed 1,355 structures and took the lives of 3 civilians); the Pocket Fire in Sonoma County (which destroyed 6 structures); the Sulphur Fire in Lake County (which destroyed 162 structures); the Cherokee Fire in Butte County (which destroyed 6 structures); the 37 Fire (which destroyed 3 structures); and the Blue Fire in Humboldt County.
8 of the 12 fires – Atlas, Adobe, Blue, Norrbom, Patrick, Pocket, Pythian, and Sulphur – are under review by District Attorney’s office due to evidence of violations of state law. The above 12 fires were caused by inadequate maintenance by PG&E and vegetation coming into contact with PG&E equipment and powerlines. Although CalFire reports on the Tubbs Fire and recent Camp Fire have yet to be released, the similarities are striking.
In addition to the above fires, our attorneys are representing victims of the Tubbs Fire, which moved rapidly throughout Santa Rosa, from the east to the west, with a wall of fire destroying hundreds of homes on the night of October 8 and throughout the day on Monday, October 9. City blocks were incinerated; destroying homes, furnishings, possessions, memories, vehicles, shelters, and lives. Named the Tubbs fire, the conflagration came close to destroying the Kaiser Santa Rosa Medical Center and its supply of liquid oxygen. As it was, the fire’s destructive power burned classrooms and offices at Cardinal Newman High School, Fountaingrove’s historic Round Barn built-in 1899, the Hidden Valley satellite elementary school, and scorched a portion of the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. In Coffey Park and Fountaingrove, Larkfield, and the Mark West area, entire city blocks were claimed by fire, displacing thousands of people and destroying more than 1,000 homes.
We are representing victims who lost their homes and property as a result of the fire. The devastation was so complete that little was left. The flames had come from the hills and crossed six lanes of Highway 101, burning homes from a few blocks north of Piner Road almost to Dennis Lane on the northern edge of the city. Devastatingly, 22 people lost their lives, and thousands lost their homes, as a result of this fire.
We are working with experts in the fields of electrical engineering, fire mapping, insurance claims practices, building construction, public adjusting and appraisal to assist Sonoma and Napa County Fire victims, but we are interested in obtaining justice for all fire victims, including those affected by the recent Camp Fire.
Camp Fire – PG&E Reported Malfunction 15 Minutes Prior to the Beginning of the Fire
The Camp Fire, which began on November 8, 2018, burned through over 153,000 acres in Butte County, consumed the entire town of Paradise and took the lives of at least 86 innocent civilians. According to CalFire incident reports, the Camp Fire, which was the deadliest and most destructive fire in state history, destroyed a total of 18,793 structures, including 13,972 residences, 528 commercial buildings, and 4,293 other locations.
Although CalFire is still investigating the cause of the Camp Fire, PG&E itself reported two power outages just before the fire started. In fact, PG&E disclosed to the California Public Utilities Commission that, at 6:15 AM on November 8, only 15 minutes before the fire was first reported, that there was a power failure on a transmission line in Butte County.
Our firm will use its expertise and long history of successfully litigating against PG&E to hold PG&E accountable for the destruction that PG&E’s carelessness and neglect have caused to the people of Northern California. PG&E has long known that failing to regularly and adequately maintain and inspect its equipment leads to the threat of public safety and, in the above cases, loss of life, homes, businesses, and beloved possessions for the residents of Northern California.
Abbey, Weitzenberg, Warren & Emery, PC, has been based in Northern California for over 100 years and hosts a team of devoted and responsive wildfire attorneys and staff that will work tirelessly to prosecute those who have caused the devastating losses to our communities. With many of the members of our firm having experienced the trauma of the fires themselves, our firm personally relates to the desire to hold PG&E responsible for causing such losses.
With the deaths of over 125 people, the displacement of tens-of-thousands of people, and the loss of thousands of homes, businesses, and structures, we are here to ensure that families and businesses affected by these disastrous fires are given a chance to be heard. Our goal is to achieve individualized compensation for all of our clients, and our legal consultation is free.