A Santa Rosa couple who lost their home in the Tubbs Fire sued PG&E Co. in San Francisco Superior Court today, claiming the fire was caused by alleged negligence by the utility in maintaining electric lines and pruning trees and vegetation.
Wayne and Jennifer Harvell, who lived on Mocha Lane, “lost their house completely” after they fled the fast-moving fire at about 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 9, with only time to “grab a couple of things,” according to attorney Bill Robins.
Robins said he believes the lawsuit is the first to be filed against PG&E in the wake of the North Bay fires that began on Oct. 8.
The suit alleges that the fires were a foreseeable risk in the dry, hot and windy conditions and that PG&E’s negligence in fact caused the conflagration.
“The Wine Country Fires were started when electrical infrastructure owned, operated and maintained by PG&E…came into contact with vegetation inspected and maintained by PG&E,” the lawsuit alleges.
The suit includes claims of negligence, property destruction, trespass by the fire, private nuisance and violation of state utilities and public-safety laws. It seeks unspecified financial compensation for property loss and emotional harm, plus punitive damages.
Wayne Harvell said in a statement, “This fire has been devastating to our family and to our entire community.
“Some things can be replaced, but it is the things we cannot replace that is so tragic – pictures and videos of our family’s memories that we will never be able to see again,” he said.
The family was in the news last week when the couple’s son, Iraq veteran Brady Harvell, 31, went back to the ruins of the house to search for the dog tags from his service in Iraq in 2013.
The son lives in a nearby condominium that was not burned, but had given the identification tags to his parents to hang under his picture. After two hours of searching in the rubble last week, he found one of the tags.
PG&E spokesperson Donald Cutler said, “As the fires continue to burn, we’re focused on supporting firefighting efforts to contain the fires and protect life and property. Once it is safe to do so, restoring power and gas service safely and as quickly as possible will be our priority.
“We aren’t going to speculate about any of the causes of the fires and will support the reviews by any relevant regulator or agency,” Cutler said in a statement.
Robins, of Santa Monica, said he is preparing several similar lawsuits on behalf of other fire victims. He said he expects that eventually, all lawsuits filed against PG&E will be transferred to one judge for purposes of coordination.