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Suit alleges DWP responsible for start of Powerhouse Fire

Posted: April 24, 2014 6:44 p.m.
Updated: April 24, 2014 6:44 p.m.

Lake Hughes resident John Lews scans the remains of his home after the Powerhouse Fire roared through the community in early June 2013. Signal file photo

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The Powerhouse Fire that scorched dozens of homes and charred more than 30,000 acres last summer got its name from the fact that it started near one of the powerhouses run by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in the Angeles National Forest.

A recent lawsuit filed against the department claims the fire was also started as a result of its namesake.

The lawsuit from the Singleton Law Firm alleges that negligent maintenance of equipment or power lines at or near the DWP’s power plant off San Francisquito Canyon Road led to the destructive fire that roared through the Angeles National Forest and the communities of Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake north of the Santa Clarita Valley last summer, destroying dozens of homes and damaging other properties.

The lawsuit alleges that DWP’s “facilities, wires, lines, equipment, infrastructure and other public improvements, as deliberately designed and constructed, present an inherent danger and risk of fire to private property” and that the department took “a known, calculated risk that private property would be damaged and destroyed by fire.”

“What our investigation has revealed is there really weren’t any other ignition sources other than the lines that could have caused this fire,” said Gerald Singleton, principal attorney of the Singleton Law Firm.

Built in 1917, Powerhouse No. 1 “is the original power plant for the municipal utility” and is a “hydroelectric plant located on the Los Angeles aqueduct” that currently produces around 45 megawatts of power, according to a statement from DWP.

Singleton said this week the lawsuit has around 110 plaintiffs of different backgrounds who were affected by the fire in different ways.

“We have people that have very different losses,” he said. “Some lost their home and everything they owned other than what they could carry; others suffered significant physical injuries.”

As a result, the damages they may be entitled to are different, Singleton said.

“You have to figure out what’s going to put them back into the same situation they were in before the start of the fire,” he said.

DWP response
In a statement, DWP said the department is aware of the lawsuit.

“The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has been cooperating fully with an ongoing civil investigation being conducted by the U.S. Forest Service into the cause of the May 30, 2013, Powerhouse Fire,” the agency’s statement reads. “LADWP is also aware of a lawsuit filed by a law firm representing families and businesses impacted by the fire.”

Nathan Judy, a fire information officer for the Angeles National Forest, said Wednesday the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

“That has not been determined as of yet,” he said.

Due to the difficulty of pinpointing the moment and location of ignition for a fire, Judy said, it is not uncommon for it to take some time to determine a cause.

“Sometimes you might not find a cause of the fire because of a lack of evidence,” he said.

The DWP also noted the fire’s cause hadn’t been determined.

“LADWP has furnished the investigators with all information requested,” the statement reads. “LADWP does not believe that equipment age was a factor in the cause of the fire.”

But Singleton said he was confident in the lawsuit’s assertions.

“It does not appear that there could have been any other ignition sources, at least none that our experts were able to come up with,” Singleton said.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney



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