The County of Sonoma, city of Santa Rosa, town of Windsor, city of Cloverdale, city of Healdsburg, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, Sonoma County Water Agency and the Community Development Commission filed a lawsuit on Nov. 17 in Sonoma County Superior Court against Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) for damages to public resources resulting from the Kincade Fire.
The suit alleges that PG&E negligently caused the 2019 Kincade Fire and is legally responsible for the damage to local government agencies.
According to Sonoma County spokesperson Paul Gullixson, legal allegations include inverse condemnation and negligence, among others, and seek damages for injury to and loss of public resources, including but not limited to land, roads and environmental resources.
“The amount of damages is unspecified in the complaint but likely will exceed $100 million,” said Cloverdale City Manager David Kelley.
Several of the city managers of the respective towns involved with the suit said the filing of the litigation is a cost recovery action to recoup funds that were spent on responding to the fire and to recover damages.
“The filing of litigation is a cost recovery action to reimburse the city for their losses resulting from the 2019 Kincade Fire, including to restore public resources and finances spent reacting and responding to the fire,” Kelley said.
According to Kelley, Cloverdale incurred costs related to providing mutual aid with police and fire and in establishing the evacuation shelter that had been set up at the Citrus Fairgrounds.
Many Cloverdale businesses were also financially affected after having to essentially shut down while there was no power and gas for almost a week following the fire due to a PG&E public safety power shutoff.
“Experts are currently preparing for trial to prove the public damages in a court of law. PG&E needs to place safety over profits, and the new leadership needs to be aware that drastic changes are required in order to prevent future fires,” Kelley said.
The city of Healdsburg also put funds toward fire response in the form of mutual aid, operation of their emergency operations center, and the brief operation of an evacuation shelter at the Healdsburg Community Center prior to the evacuation of the city on Oct. 26, 2019.
Ken MacNab, city manager for the town of Windsor, said the town decided to join the other governmental entities in filing the suit for similar reasons.
"The town of Windsor joined Sonoma County and the other cities in filing suit against PG&E to recover damages resulting from the Kincade Fire. Damages incurred by the town as a result of the fire include costs associated with reacting and responding to the fire, infrastructure damages, loss of tax revenues and other losses,” MacNab said.
He pointed out that while experts are still investigating the cause of the fire there is enough evidence — as confirmed by CalFire — that points toward PG&E’s equipment as the cause of the fire.
“Our experts are still investigating the cause and origin of the fire. There is enough evidence, as confirmed by CalFire, to understand that PG&E's equipment caused the fire,” MacNab said.
Following their investigation CalFire announced in July that PG&E’s equipment caused the fire and CalFire subsequently submitted their report to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office to decide whether to file criminal charges.
The Kincade Fire started on Oct. 23, 2019, near John Kincade Road northeast of Geyserville and burned 77,758 acres over a 13-day period.
A total of 374 structures were destroyed and 60 structures were damaged and there were four fire-related injuries.