Deadly Fairview Fire in Calif. triggered by sagging electrical line, CAL FIRE report says
Other possible causes, such as campfires, target shooters, smoking, debris burning and vehicles, were rejected, a CAL FIRE peace officer said
By Brian Rokos
The Orange County Register
HEMET, Calif. — A Cal Fire investigatory report released this week confirmed that a sagging Southern California Edison electrical line came in contact with a communications cable, creating an arc that ignited the deadly Fairview fire near Hemet in 2022.
The report was provided in response to a subpoena from the attorneys for some of the victims of the fire who have sued Edison, claiming negligence by the public utility was responsible for the 28,000-acre fire that destroyed 22 homes and damaged five others, killed two people and injured several others.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in March by Alexander “Trey” Robertson IV and Gerald Singleton, asks for unspecified damages. A trial date has been set for September 2024.
Edison, in a report to the California Public Utilities Commission filed hours after the fire started on Sept. 5, 2022, said there was “very strong evidence” the utility’s infrastructure ignited the blaze.
The Cal Fire report, which Robertson furnished to the Southern California News Group, confirmed that finding.
“Our hearts are with the community and the people who suffered losses in the Fairview fire. We cooperated with Cal Fire during its review of the fire and are examining the latest report,” Edison spokeswoman Gabriela Ornelas said Wednesday, Nov. 15.
Ornelas declined to say whether Edison has since confirmed that its equipment caused the fire.
John May, the Cal Fire Riverside County Unit’s case agent for the investigation, wrote in a report dated June 23, 2023, that investigators examined two electrical lines that supplied electricity to the guest house of a home on 60 acres near Fairview Avenue and Bautista Canyon Road east of Hemet.
They found that one of the lines was drooping and had contacted a cable line during a 20 mph wind.
“The sag or slack in the east electrical line caused the energized electrical line to contact the Frontier Communications line causing an electrical arc and a shower of sparks to fall, igniting the vegetation below,” May wrote. That determination was made two days after the fire started.
Other possible causes, such as campfires, target shooters, smoking, debris burning and vehicles, were rejected, Kory McGranahan, a Cal Fire peace officer, said in a report dated May 20, 2023.
The lawsuit claims Edison was aware of the drought conditions, making it imperative that they adequately maintain their equipment.
“Defendants were aware of the risks posed by their electrical distribution system, including the importance of proper design and maintenance. However, defendants abdicated those duties and as a result exposed the public to unacceptable risk,” the lawsuit says.
Ian Matthew Compton, 40, and his daughter Mikayla Porter, 27, died when their car stalled outside their Avery Canyon Road home and the flames they attempted to escape overtook them. Tina Compton, Ian’s wife, was badly burned.
Three crewmembers aboard a Blue Sky Helicopters aircraft were hospitalized when it crashed while returning to Banning Municipal Airport, the Cal Fire report said. Blue Sky provides reconnaissance and other services to firefighting agencies. Also, two firefighters were injured.
Guillermo Figueroa is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. He and his family lived in their car after the fire ravaged a garage and an electrical panel. Three of the family’s 18 horses, as well as five dogs and 80 chickens, were claimed by the fire.