Pacific Energy, PacifiCorp Face Class Motion Over Oregon Wildfires

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Pacific Power, PacifiCorp Face Class Action Over Oregon Wildfires

The lawsuit alleges PacifiCorp should have known it was shutting down its power lines before a massive storm hits parts of Oregon.

Pacific Power and its parent company PacifiCorp are facing a class action lawsuit alleging their negligence caused a number of catastrophic forest fires.

According to OregonLive.com, the lawsuit was filed by three law firms in the Pacific Northwest. The main plaintiffs in the complaint – Jeanyne James and Robin Colbert, a couple from Lyon, OR – say they lost their home, four cars and personal belongings during the Labor Day weekend fires in and around Santiam Canyon.

The lawsuit alleges that PacifiCorp was warned of "extremely critical" fire conditions days before the holiday weekend.

While the weather forecast warned of "historic" strong winds, PacifiCorp kept its power lines in Oregon under power. When storms hit the state, power lines in Santiam Canyon – and other areas – toppled over, igniting the brush and sparking forest fires.

"Many of these fires were not ignited by lightning or careless campers," said Daniel Mensher, attorney and partner at Keller Rohrback. "Instead, these fires were reduced to overwhelming size by a series of ignitions caused by these defendants' power lines."

OPB notes that firefighters have already blamed power lines for at least 13 of the September forest fires in Oregon.

Dry conditions coupled with strong winds created what OPB refers to as the "furnace blast effect". The winds sparked smaller fires and quickly accelerated their spread into ravines and ridges.

"The defendants' powered power lines ignited massive, deadly and devastating fires that raced through the ravines, igniting and destroying homes, businesses and schools," the class action lawsuit said. "These fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres, destroyed thousands of buildings, killed people and rioted countless lives."

PacifiCorp has not yet made a detailed comment on the class action lawsuit to the media.

In the past, PacifiCorp Vice President David Lucas has defended the company's actions. Lucas said that on a few rare occasions, PacifiCorp cuts power in areas of high fire risk.

"As we have learned through extensive local community engagement, public safety blackouts must be properly planned and coordinated so that our blackout does not unintentionally result in an actual increase in public safety risk," said Lucas.

Lucas said some parts of Oregon simply did not meet the company's risk assessment protocol for cutting off power supplies.

OregonLive.com notes that PacifiCorp is "hardly alone" in its legal troubles. Numerous other utilities and services have since been sued for allegedly – albeit unintentionally – facilitating the spread of the forest fires.

Other, more local utility companies – including the Lane Electric Cooperative, the Eugene Water and Electric Board, and the Bonneville Power Administration – operated high-voltage electrical cables in the affected areas.

While the current class action lawsuit only targets PacifiCorp, OregonLive.com suggests that other operators can also be sued for damages.

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PacifiCorp faces a class action lawsuit over failed power lines that allegedly started devastating forest fires in Oregon

PacifiCorp is charged with failed power lines that set off wildfires in Oregon