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SoCal Edison Facing More Lawsuits Over Thomas Fire

VENTURA (CBSLA/AP) – More lawsuits are being filed against utility provider Southern California Edison over allegations that its aging equipment caused or contributed to the devastating Thomas Fire, the largest in state history.

The new lawsuits, announced Thursday, are being brought by the California Wildfire Victim Advocates legal group on behalf of several Ventura County residents. Among the plaintiffs is a couple who claims they lost more than 50 cattle when the fire scorched thousands of acres of land on their Santa Paula ranch.

SCE "knew about the significant risk of wildfires stemming from its unsafe equipment, aging infrastructure and ineffective vegetation management system for many years before the Thomas Fire began, and has been repeatedly fined or cited for failing to mitigate these risks," a news release from the Wildfire Victim Advocates read.

The cause of the Thomas Fire has not yet been determined and remains under investigation.

In January, a lawsuit was filed against SoCal Edison alleging that an explosion or fire in one of SCE's transformers sparked the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, followed by another transformer fire nearly 6 miles away that was a second ignition point and that the two blazes merged.

The 281,893-acre Thomas Fire broke out Dec. 4 in Santa Paula. Fueled by Santa Ana winds and hot, dry conditions, it spread across Ventura County and up into Santa Barbara County, burning for about five weeks before being fully contained. The blaze forced thousands of people to evacuate and destroyed a staggering 1,063 structures — including more than 750 homes.

The fire was directly responsible for two deaths, including San Diego CAL Fire engineer Cory Iverson.

It also set the stage for deadly mudslides on Jan. 9 in the Santa Barbara County enclave of Montecito, when a storm triggered flash floods on hillsides ravaged by the Thomas Fire, killing at least 21 people, destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes, and shut down the 101 Freeway for weeks.

Edison provided CBS2 the following statement Thursday:

"The Thomas fire obviously has had an impact of many individuals, but the origin and cause of the fire continue to be under investigation and no report has yet been issued. This and other lawsuits are not based on findings related to an investigation. Therefore, it would be premature for SCE to comment on the origin or cause of the recent wildfires."

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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