Pierce College's South Gym in Woodland Hills served as an evacuation center for people seeking refuge from the Woolsey fire. (Zane Meyer-Thornton/Corsair Photo)

17 people impacted by the Woolsey fire are suing Southern California Edison.

The class action complaint, filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges the utility company failed to shut off power to prevent the fire. The lawsuit is also claiming SCE turned off electricity needed to provide water that could have protected homes.

SCE told the California Public Utility Commission on Nov. 12 stating that an electric substation had experienced a disturbance two minutes before the fire was first reported. The fire started at the same SCE facility where the substation is located.

Lead plaintiff attorney R. Rex Parris said the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag warning for fire prone conditions in the area in the days leading up to the fire.

“Southern California Edison failed to take proper precautions to protect people and property even though the utility had prior warning of the Red Flag conditions in the area,” Parris said. “SCE’s decision to eventually turn off the power only exacerbated the problem for residents and firefighters.”

The lawsuit claims that once SCE turned the electricity off, residents and firefighters couldn’t access enough water with the right pressure to fight the fire.

“(SCE) knew this was going to happen, or if they didn’t, they’re idiots,” Parris said. “You don’t put high-powered lines through high fire danger areas, you put them underground. Everybody knows that.”

The Woolsey fire ignited on Nov. 8 and burned more than 96,000 acres of land in the Santa Monica Mountains, destroyed more than 400 structures and caused more than 260,000 people to evacuate their homes.

“SCE knew or should have known about the significant risk of wildfires in California,” the lawsuit said. “SCE has been repeatedly fined, cited, sued and otherwise deemed liable for causing a number of fires in the region including California’s historic Thomas fire earlier this year, which burned 281,000 acres and caused deadly mudslides in the Montecito area.”

SCE is also being sued by Michael Henthorn, a Ventura County man who lost his ranch and home in the Woolsey fire. The lawsuit, filed Thursday, alleges the fire ignited under SCE power lines near Simi Valley on Nov. 8, under the same conditions as last year’s Thomas fire. SCE has acknowledged the Thomas fire ignited near its equipment.

“Despite this knowledge, SCE failed to take adequate precautions to prevent its equipment from sparking the Woolsey fire,” the complaint said.

The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit are property owners, renters, business owners and individuals that suffered damages in the Woolsey fire. They are asking for compensation for the loss of their homes, the costs of cleaning homes of smoke damage, business disruption and emotional distress, among other damages.

The plaintiffs’ legal team includes R. Rex Parris, Alexander R. Wheeler, Patricia Oliver and Bernadette N. Manigault with the Lancaster based Parris Law Firm and Kevin I. Shenkman and Mary R. Hughes with the Malibu-based law firm Shenkman & Hughes PC.

The Parris Law Firm has handled lawsuits against major utilities before, including several recent suits against SoCalGas regarding a gas well blowout near Porter Ranch. The firm filed a lawsuit against that utility last month on behalf of several firefighters who were misled as to the toxic chemicals present during the blowout. The firm also filed a class action lawsuit for Porter Ranch residents and individual lawsuits on behalf of residents.

An SCE spokesperson said the company cannot comment on lawsuits related to the Woolsey fire at this time.


This article was updated Nov. 20 at 1:20 p.m.

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