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California

State agency sues DWP for costs of fighting Powerhouse fire

Powerhouse Fire

The Powerhouse fire rages on a hillside south of Lake Hughes on June 3, 2013. 

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A California state agency is suing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for more than $4 million over a fire that scorched tens of thousands of acres in the northern stretches of Los Angeles County, arguing that the municipal utility is to blame for causing the blaze three years ago.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire, alleges that the DWP failed to properly maintain or inspect its power lines in the area. In the lawsuit, it contends that the Powerhouse fire was ignited by the electric arcing of power lines, which dropped burning fragments of metal into the dry brush below.

The fire started near Santa Clarita and lasted more than a week, destroying dozens of structures and burning more than 30,000 acres of land. Ten minor injuries were reported. Cal Fire is seeking an estimated $4.2 million in costs for suppressing the blaze, as well as attorney fees and other expenses.

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday. Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said city lawyers are reviewing the suit and could not comment further.

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Utility spokesman Joseph Ramallo also declined to comment, saying the DWP had yet to receive the complaint.

Cal Fire isn’t alone in taking the utility to court over the Powerhouse fire: Nearly two years ago, the DWP was sued by scores of people who said they had suffered damage from the blaze. Among the plaintiffs were a nonprofit camp for children with chronic illnesses, which said it couldn’t operate the season after the fire. That case is ongoing.

The U.S. Forest Service released an investigative report a year and a half ago that said the fire was caused by a tripped power line and gusty winds. When the federal report was released, the utility said it was still pursuing its own investigation into the blaze.

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It noted in a press release that “it is not uncommon for electric distribution lines near a fire to relay after a fire has started due to ash and soot causing an interruption in the flow of electricity over the lines.”

However, DWP General Manager Marcie Edwards added, “If it is determined that our equipment was involved in the start of the fire, we will evaluate the damage claims accordingly.”

Follow @latimesemily for what’s happening at Los Angeles City Hall

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