What is a Wildfire?

A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire that occurs in wildland areas, but these fires also have the potential to reach populated areas such as neighborhoods. Wildfires can also be called brush fires, bushfires, forest fires, grass fires, hill fires, vegetation fires, and wildland fires, depending on the type of vegetation being burned. Wildfires can become a threat to those in rural areas in addition to wildlife. Even in rural/suburban areas like California, wildfires can produce ember attacks, where floating embers set fire to buildings at a distance from the fire itself.

Wildfires go unnoticed when they first begin, but they can quickly spread to residential areas by igniting nearby flammable objects such as trees and brushes. Civilian homes and agricultural resources have been decimated by wildfires, causing enormous financial and emotional damage to families and businesses. Thousands of Americans have lost their lives from wildfires. Many of these unplanned fires occur in the western areas of the US, especially in Southern California and bordering areas of Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon.

Wildfire Victims’ Lives Impacted

Causes of Wildfires

About 85 percent of wildfires are caused by humans, either intentionally or by accident. These types of human-caused fires could be the result of:

  • Unattended campfires
  • Burning debris
  • Malfunctioning equipment
  • Cigarettes
  • Intentional acts of arson
  • Negligent factories or manufacturing plants

Natural causes of wildfires:

  • Lightning
  • Volcano eruptions
  • Heat Waves
  • Droughts
  • Climate Change

Where Do Wildfires Occur?

Wildfires most commonly occur in the western portion of the United States. California is by far the most wildfire-prone state, with over 2 million households at high or extreme risk from wildfires, followed by Texas at 715,300 households. Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Washington, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, and Montana follow respectively, with Montana having about 133,000 households at risk.

Areas Affected by Camp Fire

  • Berry Creek
  • Butte Creek Canyon
  • Butte Valley
  • Centreville
  • Chico
  • Concow
  • Forest Ranch
  • Helltown
  • Inskip
  • Magalia
  • Oroville
  • Paradise
  • Pulga
  • Stirling City
  • Yankee Hill

Wildfires Lawsuit

Wildfires can cause damage to structures, homes, land, and even death. Wildfires often displace individuals from their homes through forced evacuations. Often people will not know how bad the damage will be until they return days or weeks after the fire. Many wildfire victims think that since they have insurance, they do not need to file a lawsuit to recover their losses. While it may be true that an individual may be well covered, insurance companies may not be fully cooperative and may not meet the needs of an individual during this stressful time.

Many fire victims find out that their insurance does not provide sufficient reimbursement to rebuild or restore what was destroyed by the fire and subsequent erosion. Victims have the option of filing a wildfire lawsuit to seek financial compensation from those responsible for the fire.

Some potential claims are:

  • Wrongful death – Individuals who have lost a loved one to a wildfire may be eligible to file a wrongful death suit.
  • Property damage and personal property losses – If an individual has insurance, policy limits may be lower than the amount it would cost to restore all of the property owned, personal property losses, additional structures that may have been on the property, and what it would cost to rebuild the home.
  • Emotional distress and trauma from wildfire evacuations – Insurance policies do not cover the emotional distress that is suffered from victims that escape their homes and seek refuge from a life-threatening situation.
  • Loss of income – Any income that is lost during the period of displacement and evacuation may be recoverable. Loss of income relates to business owners and all employees who may have lost income as a result of a wildfire.
  • Displacement – Displacement is a legal term that is used in wildfire lawsuits to describe the experience of being forced to relocate and find a new home, alter lifestyles in order to accommodate wildfire restoration workers, drive additional hours to and from work and other acts that may result from a number of causes such as wildfires.
  • Personal injuries – Any injuries that are suffered as a result of a negligent or intentionally caused wildfire may be recovered.
  • Cherished belongings – Most policies do not provide coverage to restore loss of cherished items that do not have an appraisal or financial worth. Victims will want wildfire attorneys who can include items like these and seek the maximum recovery for claims.
  • Trees and vegetation – Typical home insurance policies do not cover landscaping, trees, family gardens and other vegetation destroyed by a wildfire.
  • Loss of enjoyment – Anything that was loved about an individual’s home, community, and environment and how it was severely altered is also something that is not covered by insurance policies but may be recoverable through legal action.

1994

PG&E’s failure to trim trees near its power lines caused the devastating Trauner Fire in Nevada County, California. A jury would later find the utility guilty of 739 counts of criminal negligence for causing that fire. The company paid out almost $29 million in damages.

2008

PG&E’s inadequate repairs caused a deadly explosion in Rancho Cordova, California costing $38 million.

2010

PG&E’s aging infrastructure caused a deadly gas explosion in San Bruno, California in which 8 people died. The fine for that case was $1.6 billion and the company was convicted of felony charges.

2010

Another massive wildfire devastated California, known as the Butte Fire. The Butte Fire destroyed hundreds of homes and killed two people and was attributed to poor vegetation management practices by PG&E.

November 2018

The California wildfire named Camp Fire began and resulted in 85 deaths and the destruction of 4,000 residences.

December 2018

PG&E notified regulators that one of their electrical towers had damage before the fire began. This was determined to be one potential ignition point of the fire.

January 2019

PG&E filed for bankruptcy due to legal liabilities that the company has faced from two years of wildfires in California.

March 2019

It was officially determined that equipment operated by PG&E was the cause of California’s Camp Fire.

October 2019

PG&E agreed to an $11 billion settlement with insurers to cover most of the wildfire lawsuit claims.

References

Arindam Samanta. “Key findings from the 2017 Verisk wildfire risk analysis”, Verisk. Accessed February 28, 2019.

Doyle Rice. “How do wildfires start? All it takes is a spark”, USA Today. Accessed February 28, 2019.

Rinkesh. “What are Wildfires?”, Conserve Energy Future. Accessed February 28, 2019.

National Interagency Fire Center. “Statistics”, National Interagency Fire Center. Accessed February 27, 2019.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr. “The deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California’s history has finally been contained”, The Washington Post. Accessed February 27, 2019.

Menu