Southern California Edison must inventory and make available for inspection electrical equipment that may have been responsible for the Thomas Fire, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.
The equipment, including power lines, has since been removed from Anlauf Canyon — where the fire is suspected to have started — after Cal Fire returned control to the utility Jan. 5.
SoCal Edison has been hit with lawsuits in both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties for its alleged role in the Thomas Fire and the ensuing Montecito mudslides. In the Ventura County lawsuit, plaintiffs (which include a number of families affected by the Thomas Fire) allege that Edison did not properly maintain its electrical equipment, which contributed to starting the fire. The Santa Barbara County lawsuit adds that the deadly combination of fire-ravaged hillsides and heavy rain contributed to the mudslide, which claimed several lives; plaintiffs allege the mudslides were a direct result of Edison’s negligence.
Alex Robertson, speaking on behalf of the Montecito plaintiffs, called Tuesday’s decision a victory; he accused Edison of removing evidence.
“And the first thing Edison did is start removing ... miles and miles of power equipment,” he said. “They wouldn’t tell us what they had removed, they wouldn’t tell us where they had taken it.”
Steven Conroy, spokesman for SoCal Edison, accused the plaintiffs of mischaracterizing the facts.
“We actually were doing this out of an abundance of caution. We felt it was the right thing to do,” he said. “There is nothing we were doing other than preserving materials.”
Conroy added that “to characterize it any other way is just inaccurate.”
The next step in the legal battle is a case management conference April 20; however, some of the plaintiff groups are petitioning to have all related cases merged and moved to Los Angeles County Superior Court.
“We are fighting that, we are the only plaintiff group fighting that,” Robertson said.
He said the plaintiffs, who live in Montecito, deserve to have their cases heard locally “and not have to schlep 100 miles to downtown Los Angeles.”
Conroy said Edison has not issued an opinion yet on its preferred legal venue.