Electric utility PacifiCorp sued, accused of causing deadly McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County
A lawsuit was filed this week against PacifiCorp, claiming the utility's electrical equipment caused the McKinney Fire, which has destroyed 185 structures and killed four people in Siskiyou County.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, alleges sparks from the electric utility's equipment ignited the fire, which went on to destroy much of the tiny community of Klamath River in northwest Siskiyou County.
Five people were named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against PacifiCorp of Oregon, which provides electricity to residents in Siskiyou County.
The fire also has torched some 60,392 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Kaitlyn Webb, a spokeswoman for the McKinney Fire, said Tuesday the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
The suit was filed by Singleton Schreiber, a San Diego law firm that has represented wildfire victims in numerous lawsuits around the state. Many of those fires were started by electric utilities.
"The suit claims PacifiCorp is responsible for the deaths of the plaintiffs’ loved ones, property damage (including cherished possessions), serious out-of-pocket expenses for those impacted by the fires, evacuation expenses, medical bills, loss of business income, and much more. All of this as the result of the utility’s negligence," according to a press release from the law firm.
The suit lists Beverly U. Bridges, Amelia Anderson, Robert V. Cloyd, Shawn Kazen and Michael Nowdesha as plaintiffs. The filing says they are residents or business owners in Siskiyou County.
The McKinney Fire started July 29 in the area of Highway 96 and McKinney Creek Road, where PacifiCorp has a transmission line, the suit says.
Gerald Singleton, one of the attorneys handling the case, said his firm cannot say definitively the utility started the fire, but said the evidence points to the company's equipment as the culprit.
He said the law firm has evidence it believes shows probable cause PacifiCorp's equipment started the fire.
The blaze started under power lines and the company filed paperwork with the California Public Utilities Commission shortly after the fire started indicating there was an event related to its equipment at about the time the fire started, Singleton said.
PacifiCorp is the electrical provider in the area where the McKinney Fire ignited, and PacifiCorp owns and operates a transmission line that runs near Highway 96 and McKinney Creek Road, in Siskiyou County, California, in the very same location as the ignition point of the McKinney Fire.
“To date, four people have lost their lives in a fire that was entirely avoidable,” said Singleton said in a separate news release. “Every fire season, California is overrun by deaths, injuries, financial disasters, charred homes and ruined lives as a result of utilities such as PacifiCorp putting profits over safety. This is the second time in the last two years that PacifiCorp has started a fire that killed citizens of Siskiyou County.”
“The people who lived in the area in and around the McKinney Fire had their lives changed forever, PacifiCorp owes it to them to make this right,” said attorney Christopher R. Rodriguez. “This lawsuit cannot bring back loved ones, but it can hold this utility accountable for its own failure to meet basic safety standards.”
Tom Gauntt, a spokesman for PacifiCorp, said he could not comment on the lawsuit or the allegation that the company's equipment caused the fire.
The lawsuit alleges that PacifiCorp did not properly inspect or maintainits electrical equipment and that the company did not maintain an appropriate clearance area between the electrical equipment in its utility infrastructure and surrounding vegetation.
Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter. He is part of a team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 by email at email@example.com and on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!