California Attorney General Xavier Becerra Friday issued a consumer alert following Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration of a state of emergency in Los Angeles, Butte, and Trinity Counties due to widespread fires, reminding people that price gouging during a state of emergency is against the law.

“In the last week alone, fires have been raging in both Northern and Southern California,” Becerra said. “While our brave firefighters are still working to ensure these blazes are fully contained, it should not be open season for fraudsters to prey upon innocent victims.”

In Los Angeles, firefighters are in the final stages of mopping up after a fire that started on Sept. 1 scorched nearly 7,200 acres of brush in the Verdugo Mountains, injuring 10 people, and destroying five homes and five outbuildings.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, but officials said arson is not suspected. The terrain involved hadn’t burned for 70 years, officials said.

On Sunday, Gov. Brown declared a state emergency in Los Angeles County due to the fire.

According to the Attorney General’s office, California’s price gouging law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal price gouging on gas, food, housing, and other essential supplies.

“As the top law enforcement officer in California, I encourage anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, to immediately file a complaint through my office’s website or call (800) 952-5225, or to contact their local police department or sheriff’s office,” Becerra said.

The Attorney General’s website to file complaints is https://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company.

California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds — by more than 10 percent — the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency.

The law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials and gasoline. The law also applies to repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, transportation, freight and storage services, hotel accommodations and rental housing. Exceptions to this prohibition exist if, for example, the price of labor, goods, or materials has increased for the business.

Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a one-year imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, injunctive relief and mandatory restitution.

–City News Service

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