News and Press Releases


September 23, 2011

LOS ANGELES – Southern California Edison (SCE) has paid the United States $9 million to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service to recoup costs associated with fighting the Grass Valley Fire in 2007.

The County of San Bernardino has paid the United States an additional $600,000 to resolved its part of the lawsuit.

The Grass Valley Fire burned more than 850 Acres of the San Bernardino National Forest when a tree on a county right-of-way fell onto SCE power lines. As a result, SCE equipment on a downline power pole overheated and emitted molten aluminum, which fell to the forest floor and ignited the fire.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the Forest Service alleged that the downed tree was dangerous because it leaned toward the power lines and grew on a slope in such a manner that its roots did not adequately support it. The Forest Service also alleged that both the county and SCE should have noticed that the tree was a danger during their inspections and removed the danger, as they had removed other hazardous trees.

Under the use agreements between SCE and the Forest Service, SCE is responsible for any damages from fires that are caused by its electrical equipment. Additionally, the Forest Service believes that SCE did not properly maintain its equipment and allowed the bolts to loosen on a “pothead” – which is a part of the system that secures the power line to the power pole. Pursuant to its agreement with the Forest Service, SCE is responsible for inspecting its equipment on a regular basis and discovering loose bolts that may allow equipment to malfunction and cause fires. The lawsuit alleged that the falling tree caused a power surge that passed through the pothead, heating it to the point of melting aluminum power lines, which discharged molten aluminum onto the Forest floor.

The Forest Service spent approximately $6.7 million to suppress the Grass Valley Fire. Additionally, the Forest Service to date has spent more than $100,000 to rehabilitate the forest. The remaining money recovered in the settlement is related to environmental damages – largely arising from the thousands of trees burned in the fire – future reforestation costs, and interest and penalties.

The parties executed settlement agreements and requested that the Court
dismiss the civil lawsuit brought in 2009 by the United States Attorney’s Office. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday pursuant to the settlement agreements.

“Wildfire season is well underway in drought-ravaged Southern California, and everyone who uses public lands needs to be especially vigilant,” said United States
Attorney André Birotte Jr. “Those responsible for wildfires must pay for the costs of suppressing the fire and repairing the damages caused to Forest Service lands that are held in trust for the public.”

“A significant portion of this money will be used by the Forest Service to help
restore the fire-damaged area,” said Regional Forester Randy Moore. “We are pleased
by the quick settlement.”

SCE and San Bernardino County agreed to pay the settlement without admitting
wrongdoing or fault.

Release No. 11-138

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