July 21, 2024
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Thomas fire lawsuit expanded to include mudslide victims


Attorneys for victims of the mudslides in Montecito have joined an earlier lawsuit against Southern California Edison over the Thomas fire, blaming actions by the giant utility and the Montecito Water District for the devastation that killed at least 20 people.

The lawsuit claims that the fire originated from two separate pole-mounted transformers owned and operated by SCE in Santa Paula and Upper Ojai. Driven by Santa Ana winds, the fire eventually grew to more than 281,000 acres, denuding hillsides above Montecito.

The suit contends that the fire contributed to the heavy erosion and debris flows that resulted in flooding and mudslides in the early morning hours Jan. 9, destroying homes and businesses and ultimately killing at least 20 people.

“The devastating impact of the mudslides in Montecito has been tragic,” SCE said in an email statement to the Business Times. “Our current focus right now is on supporting first responders. Immediately following that effort, our crews will attempt to safely expedite restoration of power to customers in that area due to damaged equipment. In regards to the potential causes of the Thomas fire, we understand that Cal Fire’s investigation is ongoing, and it would be premature for SCE to speculate about potential litigation associated with the recent mudslides.”

The lawsuit also alleges that another 9 million gallons of water from reservoirs in the hills above Montecito flooded the area due to a break in the Montecito Water District main line.

The Westlake Village law firm Robertson & Associates was joined by the Santa Barbara firm Foley Bezek Behle & Curtis LLP as representatives for the plaintiffs.

“Had SCE acted responsibly, the Thomas fire could have been prevented,” the suit said.

“Areas of the Los Padres National Forest that had not burned in the Thomas fire, such as Mission Canyon, experienced none of the devastation that occurred nearby in Montecito,” it later added.

The city of Ventura and the Casitas Municipal Water District had previously been defendants in a case filed Dec. 15. The new filing also moves the jurisdiction from the Ventura County Superior Court to the Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

• Contact Marissa Nall at mnall@pacbiztimes.com.