The fire destroyed approximately 71,000 acres as it raged from September 9 until it was contained on October 2. Nearly 500 homes were destroyed, as were almost 400 other structures.
A preliminary investigation indicates the blaze ignited due to a tree touching a power line owned by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). Plaintiffs in the lawsuits are alleging that PG&E failed to properly clear vegetation from its lines. In 1997, PG&E was found guilty of more than 700 counts of negligence in a wildfire that destroyed several homes in the Sierra Nevada mountain range three years earlier.
President Obama declared Calaveras County a disaster area, making residents affected by the fire eligible for government assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Administration. However, for most people who lost everything in the fire, governmental assistance will only go so far.
Under California law, a public utility such as PG&E could be responsible for compensating victims of wildfires under the theory of inverse condemnation. This occurs when a governmental entity damages or seizes private property without providing the required compensation to the owner. When inverse condemnation is claimed as a cause of action in a lawsuit, a plaintiff who wins his or her case could be entitled to not only damages but also attorney’s fees as well.