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SoCal Edison To Pay $550M In Fines For Sparking 5 Wildfires, Including Woolsey, Thomas

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California regulators approved a settlement Thursday placing more than half a billion dollars in fines and penalties on the utility Southern California Edison for its role in five wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

Ventura County Thomas Fire Forces Thousands to Evacuate
A resident walks in the remains of an apartment complex destroyed by the Thomas Fire in a residential neighborhood on December 5, 2017 in Ventura, California. Around 45,000 acres have burned in the fire forcing thousands to evacuate and destroying 150 structures. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The penalties relate to the Thomas, Woolsey, Rye, Meyers and Liberty fires.

The Thomas fire broke out in December 2017, scorched 281,000 acres and destroyed more than 750 homes in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. It is the eighth largest fire in California history.

Meanwhile, the 97,000-acre Woolsey Fire that also tore through L.A. and Ventura counties in November 2018 ranks as the eighth most destructive fire in state history, destroying more than 1,600 structures and forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate.

Investigations found utility equipment sparked the fires.

Southern California Edison reached the settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission's safety and enforcement division; it was then approved by the five-member commission.

The utility's shareholders will pay a $110 million penalty to the state's general fund and put $65 million toward safety measures, according to the settlement. It also bars the utility from tapping ratepayers to cover $125 million in claims related to insurance for the Thomas Fire and $250 million for the Woolsey Fire.

California has seen increasingly destructive wildfires in recent years, made worse by climate change and drought. Utility equipment has been blamed for sparking some the state's worst fires.

The CPUC's safety and enforcement division found the utility violated state safety regulations that govern design, construction and maintenance of overhead electrical lines and communication facilities. State regulators used a relatively new process to reach the agreement with the utility, bypassing a more formal investigation process. It resolves all claims by state regulators related to the fires.

Southern California Edison serves 15 million customers and is one of the state's three major investor-owned utilities. In signing the agreement, the utility is not admitting any fault.

SCE spokesman Ben Gallagher called the settlement "fair and reasonable."

He said it "puts one additional uncertainty behind us as the utility continues to implement its comprehensive wildfire risk mitigation measures."

Safety measures, to which the utility must put $65 million of shareholder money, include things like system enhancements, community engagement and contributions to fire safety-focused nonprofits, according to the agreement.

The Rye Fire sparked in Santa Clarita, the Liberty Fire in Murrieta and the Meyers Fire in San Bernardino County all occurred in early December 2017.

(© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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