SoCal Edison to pay $360M to settle claims over wildfires, mudflow

The Thomas Fire burns along a hillside near Santa Paula, California, on December 5, 2017. More than a thousand firefighters were struggling to contain a wind-whipped brush fire in southern California on December 5 that has left at least one person dead, sent thousands fleeing, and was choking the area with thick black smoke. / AFP PHOTO / Kyle Grillot (Photo credit should read KYLE GRILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Utility giant Southern California Edison has agreed to pay $360 million to settle claims with 23 cities and counties impacted by three recent wildfires and a mudflow.

Of the amount, $210 million will go to public entities such as Los Angeles and Ventura counties for costs associated with the deadly Woolsey Fire last November.

Three people were killed and three firefighters were injured as the blaze destroyed more than 1,600 buildings over several weeks. It became one of the most destructive fires in state history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.

Last month, Southern California Edison said it might be responsible for starting the blaze.

“This settlement is an essential step toward accountability and continued recovery,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents many people whose homes were totaled. “While this settlement won’t bring back people’s homes or businesses, it’s very important to hold SCE accountable for the devastation caused by this fire.”

The power company said these are settlements only with public entities and do not affect claims from residents and businesses.

“We look forward to engaging with other parties who have a similar interest in good faith settlement efforts,” said Pedro J. Pizarro, president and CEO of Edison International, the parent company of SCE. “We also will continue to make substantial investments in our system and enhance our operational practices to reduce the risk of wildfires in our service area and safely provide power to homes and businesses.”

Last year, Southern California Edison also acknowledged that its equipment was responsible for the 2017 Thomas Fire, which burned through 281,893 acres in parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Funds for Thomas Fire claims are included in the settlement.

The utility said it has not inspected its equipment because Cal Fire removed it as part of the agency’s investigation.

The Thomas Fire is considered the second-largest wildfire in California’s modern history. Its size was the equivalent of more than Dallas and Miami combined. Two people died, according to Cal Fire.

The new settlement money will also go to claims for the Koenigstein fire in 2017 and the Montecito mudflow in 2018. More than 20 people died during the mudflow, which occurred when rain poured down on barren hillsides recently scarred by fire, sending mud and debris into homes and streets.

For days, rescuers searched frantically for the missing after mud and boulders barreled into neighborhoods in and near Montecito, an affluent seaside community east of Santa Barbara.

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