Southern California Edison battling lawsuits over Thomas Fire

Multiple lawsuits in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties accuse utility Southern California Edison of negligent activity that caused the Thomas Fire and ultimately led to numerous deaths in the Montecito mudslides.

Edison workers were reportedly doing construction work in a Ventura County Canyon outside Santa Paula in the days leading up to the start of the Thomas Fire. In the various lawsuits, plaintiffs allege a variety of charges, including an Edison transformer or transformers exploded and ignited the blaze; Edison employees or contractors ignited dry vegetation at a construction site causing the fire; and Edison power lines or other electrical equipment started the blaze.

After firefighters extinguished the Thomas Fire, Edison received access to a work site near the location where the fire started. Edison workers then removed power lines and poles, as well as other materials from an area known as Anlauf Canyon.

In a Santa Barbara County case, a group of plaintiffs, who are homeowners affected by the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides, filed for a temporary restraining order against Edison that would prevent the utility from removing equipment from the site near the location where the blaze ignited. Attorneys for the Santa Barbara County plaintiffs alleged Edison was possibly damaging or destroying evidence that could determine the cause of the fire.

Edison has claimed it needed to remove fire-damaged power poles from the area in order to restore power and mitigate safety risks.

On Tuesday, Santa Barbara County Judge Thomas Anderle ruled Edison must provide access to the equipment already removed from Anlauf Canyon and make the items available for inspection.

The Thomas Fire ignited on Dec. 4 north of Santa Paula near highways 150 and 126. The massive blaze began as two separate fires, which merged into one and spread north through Ventura County and into Santa Barbara County.

In all, the Thomas Fire burned 281,893 acres, making it the largest wildfire in state history. Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire.

On Jan. 9, amid heavy rain, mudslides ravaged areas of Montecito that were affected by the Thomas Fire. At least 21 people died in the mudslides.