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Wildfire Victims Sue PG&E While Officials Continue To Investigate Cause

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The first lawsuit in the wine country wildfires was filed by a Santa Rosa couple who is blaming PG&E for the inferno that turned their home to ash.

Investigators are still far from naming a cause of the devastating wildfires, but that hasn't stopped two homeowners, from pointing the finger at PG&E.

The Santa Rosa couple is suing the utility after the Tubbs Fire destroyed their home on Mocha Lane in the Coffey Park neighborhood.

Jennifer Harvell says, "We raised our children there and now all we have is a plot on a map."

Her husband Wayne Harvell adds, "Everything we had is gone."

The Harvells are one of hundreds of families who lost their homes when the wind-driven flames of the Tubbs Fire decimated Santa Rosa's Coffey Park subdivision.

Now they are the first of what is expected to be a wave of lawsuits against PG&E, alleging that the utility giant's equipment failures sparked the deadly blazes that burned over 2,800 homes and buildings.

Attorney Bill Robbins said, "It is clear based on preliminary evidence here that this fire most likely started because of issues with maintenance of the PG&E power system. And unfortunately, this is not the first time this happened, but it is the most tragic."

Robbins said, "We expect this to be one of thousands of most likely cases to be filed against PG&E."

David Levine, a professor at UC Hastings School of the Law says he has seen this before, but never so early.

Levine said PG&E's "defense is going to be 'act of God.' The defense is going to be: this was a storm, we were not responsible for the storm."

PG&E spokesman Keith Stephens declined to comment on the lawsuit but told KPIX 5, "We're taking out about 1.2 million trees a year to make sure our lines are safe."

We asked him if PG&E believed their power lines were safe going into the storm.

Stephens said, "You know there is plenty of time for reviews and we'll look at that. We are focused right now on life safety of those communities that have been affected by these extraordinary fires."

Attorney Frank Pitre represented some 200 of the over 500 people who filed lawsuits against PG&E after the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion, where PG&E paid out over a half a billion dollars in claims.

Pitre said, "It's a long process for PG&E. From the date of the fire to the date there was a resolution for all claims, was three years. They're complex. It's going to be a long process. The issue is really going to be getting to the ground and taking a look at the evidence."

PG&E has an insurance policy for $800 million for cases like this, but they've already given a heads-up to shareholder that the tab could possibly be higher.

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