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Edison to pay U.S. $1.8 million to settle fire suit

September 16, 2013|By Marc Lifsher
  • A firefighter at a destroyed Riverkern house, part of a 2010 wildfire in the Sequoia National Forest. The U.S. government has settled a lawsuit against Southern California Edison related to an earlier 2007 fire in the same area.
A firefighter at a destroyed Riverkern house, part of a 2010 wildfire in… (Casey Christie )

SACRAMENTO -- Southern California Edison Co. will pay the federal government $1.8 million to settle a lawsuit seeking damages from a 2007 wildfire that burned parts of the Sequoia National Forest.

The lawsuit alleged that negligence by the Rosemead electric utility caused the blaze.

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"Poorly maintained hardware on a power distribution line owned by Edison caused an electrical fault, and molten material fell to the ground below, igniting dry vegetation," said a statement issued by Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento.

The blaze, known as the James Fire, burned 1,350 acres, mostly within the Sequoia National Forest in the central Sierra Nevada. The forest is best known for its 33 groves of giant sequoia trees that grow at lower elevations.

Edison, in agreeing to the legal settlement, did not admit any negligence, wrongful conduct or liability. In a statement Edison called the settlement "an appropriate resolution of this dispute."

For its part, the government did not concede that its claims and allegations against Edison are not well founded.

Wagner stressed that "the settlement is a significant step toward compensating the public for the expense of fighting the fire and restoring public lands."

In the last four years, Wagner said, the U.S. attorney's office has signed settlements in 17 wildfire cases that resulted in $228.3 million being paid to the federal government.

The money will be used to restore the charred acres, the U.S. Forest Service said.

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