San Diego Gas & Electric agreed to pay more than $6.4 million to settle claims for damages arising from the 2007 Witch Creek Fire, which burned 44,150 acres of federal land in the Cleveland National Forest, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Monday.
The settlement reached last week resolves the U.S. government's claims against SDG&E for the fire that began on the morning of Oct. 21, 2007, when the utility's high-voltage power lines malfunctioned during strong, dry Santa Ana wind conditions, according to prosecutors.
SDG&E admitted no liability or wrongdoing in the settlement, as was the case in previous settlements with the city and county of San Diego and Cal Fire, said utility spokeswoman Stephanie Donovan.
She said both sides decided a settlement was the best way to resolve the legal action.
Authorities said the electrical transmission wires, which remained in use despite line faults throughout the morning of Oct. 21, produced electrical arcing and burning particles that ignited one of the largest wildfire events in California history.
Prosecutors said the $6.4 million settlement represents the full amount of federal fire suppression costs and natural resource damages incurred as a result of the Witch Creek Fire.
"The United States takes its role as steward of public lands very seriously," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. "The Cleveland National Forest is not only one of San Diego's community treasures, but has been an important part of the American conservation heritage since the forest was established over a century ago."
U.S. Forest Service Fire Management, working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management and numerous state and local emergency responders, fought the Witch Creek Fire and other wildfires in San Diego County for nearly three weeks beginning in late October 2007.
–City News Service