The Fairview Fire ignited on September 5th, 2022, and burned 28,098 acres in Riverside County. At least 1,300 personnel were involved in the containment effort. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in Hemet and surrounding areas, 36 structures were destroyed, and at least 8 more structures were damaged. Officials estimated around 18,000 structures were threatened at the fire’s peak. Two civilians were killed in the fire, another was severely injured, and 2 fire personnel were injured fighting the blaze.
The fire was declared 100% contained on September 23rd. Although Cal Fire has not determined an official cause of the fire, Southern California Edison (SCE) reported circuit activity close in time and location to the fire’s ignition. The area was experiencing a record-breaking heatwave that was the longest and hottest seen by the state. The high for the first 7 days of September in Hemet was above 100 degrees, with temperatures reaching 107 degrees the day the fire sparked.
A statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. According to the California Judicial Branch, the statute of limitations for the following legal disputes in California are:
Personal injury: Two years from the injury. If the injury was not discovered right away, then it is 1 year from the date the injury was discovered.
Property damage: Three years from the date the damage occurred.
The Fairview Fire was first reported at approximately 3:37 pm on September 5th, south of the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Bautista Road, close to SCE electrical infrastructure.
Later that day, SCE submitted a Safety Incident Report to the California Public Utilities Commission, in which it revealed, “circuit activity occurred close in time to the report time of the fire.”
“Our information shows that a piece of protective equipment shut off power to a section of the circuit at 3:29 p.m. on Sept. 5, and a fuse operated in the area, as well,” SCE Spokeswoman Diane Castro said in a press release on October 3rd. “We do not yet know why the piece of protective equipment and fuse operated as designed and may not know until we can get more information.”
The utility company would later disclose that CAL Fire investigators identified two areas of interest, one of which was near overhead equipment owned by SCE and Frontier, a telecommunications company. Investigators requested the removal of overhead electrical and telecommunication facilities within the subject span, and both companies cooperated and turned over items on September 12th.
CAL Fire has not determined an official cause of the fire.
On September 21st, the first civil lawsuit was filed by multiple families that suffered damages from the Fairview Fire. The suit alleges that SCE failed to properly de-energize its electrical lines and that if the company had acted responsibly, the fire could have been prevented. The plaintiffs include families living on Gibbel Road who lost property, business equipment, vehicles, and animals, and/or were injured in the fire.
On October 17th, Singleton Schreiber filed a lawsuit against SCE on behalf of individuals impacted by the fire. The suit claims Southern California Edison is responsible for the catastrophically impacted local community, as well as “destruction and/or damage of the plaintiffs’ personal property, mental distress, serious out-of-pocket expenses, medical bills, personal injuries, evacuation expenses and a loss of business income incurred.”
“Southern California Edison has the expertise to understand when dangerous conditions to be operating its facilities are prominent and should have acted accordingly in preventing the lives of civilians from being taken because of their recklessness,” said Gerald Singleton, Managing Partner of Singleton Schreiber.
On February 10th, 2023, the city of Hemet filed its own lawsuit against SCE that claims the utility failed to manage its equipment properly and failed to keep the landscape trimmed. The suit was filed by Baron & Budd and seeks compensation for damages to public and natural resources.
“The deadly Fairview Fire was devastating to the City of Hemet,” said Baron & Budd Shareholder, John Fiske. “This lawsuit seeks damages to aid the city in rebuilding after the destruction of this wildfire ravaged their community.”
Suppression costs alone for the Fairview Fire were estimated at $38,850,000.