SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) — Wildfire victims from the Bay Area rallied at the California State Capitol Wednesday to push back against a plan to shield utility companies from financial liability in large fires.
Along with fire officials, victims of the 2017 Wine Country firestorms gathered on the steps of the State Capitol to share their stories and garner support from lawmakers, urging them to defend their right to collect money from utility companies, whose equipment causes fires.
“Everything was in flame. There was wind. There was smoke. We couldn’t see anything,” recalled Jonathan Harrington, who lost his home to the Nuns Fire.
“It was absolutely one of the most devastating things we’ve ever experienced. I wanted to write notes to bring them here, but mostly that night is so ingrained in my mind I will never forget for all the time left that I walk this earth,” said Rich Atmore, who lost his home in the Thomas Fire, which was the most destructive fire in California history until the Mendocino Complex Fire recently overtook it.
Patrick McCallum lost his home to the Tubbs Fire.
“PG&E wants to be off the hook on it. They want to be able to put that power pole down, but they don’t want the responsibility to pay for the damage they do,” he said.
This situation is known as inverse condemnation and it has become the buzz word at the heart of fire reforms.
Inverse condemnation is the reason why lobbyists have spent millions. It is also why the BRITE Coalition, which is supported by utility companies, launched a TV ad in which it pleaded its case to do away with inverse condemnation on the companies’ behalf.
“Our climate has changed and our laws need to change, too,” said the narrator in the BRITE ad.
The Wine Country wildfires blazed through the North Bay ten months ago in October 2017. The Thomas Fire burned Ventura County almost two months after that.
Cal Fire has blamed most of those fires on utility equipment. Now the question is: should utility companies continue to be on the hook for fire damages, or should the pain be spread to local governments, fire victims and their insurance companies?
“You want the ability to be reimbursed for the economic damage you face when you’re a homeowner. And that’s what’s at stake; you and your safety and your ability to be reimbursed for that damage,” said McCallum.
The topic of inverse condemnation will be taken up Thursday at the Wildfire Joint Committee’s second meeting, which will take place at the State Capitol. The parties involved said there are sure to be fireworks.
KPIX 5 reached out to PG&E for comment, but received no response. KPIX 5 also reached out to the BRITE Coalition; after initially agreeing to an interview, they also decided not to respond.