April 1, 2023

A week after Pacific was sued by Northern California residents and lost their homes and properties in the McKinney Fire, the utility faces another lawsuit on behalf of dozens of people, including longtime Siskiyou County, who lost their lives in the blaze Sister of fire watcher, accused of wrongful death, negligence and other claims.

The suit, filed Friday in Sacramento County Superior Court, said the fire started when PacifiCorp’s electrical equipment touched or caused sparks to fly into surrounding vegetation.

Shirley Shoopman, sister of 73-year-old firefighter Kathy Shoopman, the first of four victims of the blaze, was listed along with more than 50 other residents, business owners and others affected by the McKinney fire for the plaintiff.

The lawsuit alleges Pacific’s “negligent, reckless and willful” failure to inspect, repair, maintain and operate equipment, as well as manage vegetation around its infrastructure.

“In general, these fires don’t need to be our new normal,” said Dave Fox, the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Our utilities can do a better job. They can definitely better manage their power lines and surrounding vegetation to keep things safer.”

The fire started on July 29 in the Klamath National Forest outside Yreka. Extreme heat, low humidity, high winds and extremely dry vegetation fueled the explosive growth, and fires swept through the Klamath River community where Kathy Shoopman lives.

In the days after the fire started, evacuees told The Times of their harrowing escape, surrounded by flames and smoke and almost replaced by a burning front.

On four separate occasions, the plume rose beyond the altitude of a typical jet flight, penetrated the stratosphere, ejected a cloud of soot and ash miles above the Earth’s surface, and formed a cloud of pyrocumulonbus — a phenomenon NASA used to memorable description “Fire-breathing dragon in the cloud”.

Klamath National Forest officials announced Kathy Shopman’s death on August 8.

She has lived in the Klamath River for nearly 50 years and is remembered as a talented artist, gardener and animal lover, officials said.

Lead lawyer Fox told The Times that Kathy and her sister Shirley were very close.

The sisters have no children, he said. Their parents have passed away, and siblings are an important part of each other’s lives.

As of Friday, the McKinney Fire had burned 60,138 acres and was 99 percent contained. It destroyed 185 buildings, damaged 11, injured 12 and killed 4 more.

“This wildfire was not the result of an ‘act of God,'” the lawsuit states. “Instead, the wildfire was started by sparks from high-voltage transmission lines, distribution lines, ancillary equipment and other electrical equipment within PacifiCorp’s utility infrastructure, which ignited surrounding vegetation. Although defendants were aware of this extreme fire risk, but they deliberately put profit over safety.”

The filing comes after other recent legal battles related to the blaze.

Last week, residents of the fire area sued Pacific, alleging sparks from the utility’s transmission lines and other equipment started the fire.

PacifiCorp, owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy Holdings, operates grids in Oregon, Washington and Northern California. The utility reported to California regulators that it operates a power line near Highway 96 in Siskiyou County, where the McKinney Fire is believed to have started, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“In accordance with company policy, we do not discuss ongoing litigation,” company spokesman Brandon Zero told The Times on Friday.

Fox, the plaintiff’s lead attorney in Friday’s lawsuit, said the case is not a class-action lawsuit, although he represents dozens of people.

He said each plaintiff had unique claims against PacifiCorp, but were placed in a single case in order to improve efficiency and hope to hold the utility accountable.

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