Pacific Power utility sued over devastating Oregon wildfires


FILE – In this Sept. 11, 2020 file photo a trike stands near the burnt remains of a building destroyed by a wildfire near the Lake Detroit Market in Detroit, Ore. The blaze was one of multiple fires that burned across the state last month. Three Pacific Northwest law firms have filed a class action lawsuit against Pacific Power and its parent company, Portland-based PacifiCorp, alleging that the power company failed to shut down its power lines despite a historic wind event and extremely dangerous wildfire conditions. (Mark Ylen/Albany Democrat-Herald via AP, File)

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Three Pacific Northwest law firms have filed a class action lawsuit against the Pacific Power utility and its parent company, claiming they failed to shut down its power lines despite historically high winds and extremely dangerous wildfire conditions.

The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, names Jeanyne James and Robin Colbert as lead plaintiffs. The couple lost their home, garage and cars in the small community of Lyons, Oregon, to a wildfire that raced through a canyon last month, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported Thursday.

The blaze was one of multiple fires that burned across the state starting on that date. The wildfires destroyed several thousand homes and killed nine people in Oregon and two in northern California. The lawsuit alleged the high winds also toppled energized power lines that sparked some of the blazes.

“Defendants’ energized power lines ignited massive, deadly and destructive fires that raced down the canyons, igniting and destroying homes, businesses and schools,” the lawsuit said. “These fires burned over hundreds of thousands of acres, destroyed thousands of structures, killed people and upended countless lives.”

Drew Hanson, spokesman for utility parent company PacifiCorp, said the company does not comment on pending litigation. The Portland-based utility has previously said it doesn’t know if its equipment caused any fires.

Fire officials have not yet cited an official cause of the fires. The Northwest Interagency Fire Coordination Center that tracks and coordinates firefighting efforts across the northwestern states said in a report last month that downed power lines were responsible for 13 separate fires along a 30-mile (48-kilometer) stretch of Oregon’s Santiam Canyon.

California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, filed for bankruptcy after one of its transmission lines sparked the Camp fire in 2018. That fire devastated the town of Paradise, destroying 11,000 homes and claiming 85 lives.

PG&E’s equipment has been found to have set dozens of fires in recent years, and it faced $30 billion in claims before filing for bankruptcy protection. The utility agreed in May to pay $13.5 billion in cash and stock to settle those claims.

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