Helicopter dropping water
A helicopter drops water on the Creek Fire. Courtesy Los Angeles County Sheriff

A federal lawsuit says Los Angeles Department of Water and Power equipment was responsible for one of several fires that broke out in Southern California in late 2017 and destroyed dozens of homes.

In the complaint, filed Tuesday against the LADWP, the federal government alleges the utility failed to clear brush beneath its equipment off Little Tujunga Canyon Road in the hills above Lake View Terrace in the Angeles National Forest before a fire began Dec. 5, 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Creek fire began about 4 a.m. and, driven by powerful Santa Ana winds, destroyed 60 homes and scorched 15,000 acres, including about 7,700 acres on federal lands. The government is seeking more than $40 million from the public utility for firefighting and forest restoration costs.

“Investigators determined that the Creek Fire ignited when DWP power equipment malfunctioned and ignited dry vegetation on the Forest floor in the area of DWP transmission tower … known as the “Red Tower,” the lawsuit says. “DWP and its employees also failed to properly clear brush in the area of the origin of the fire.”

The utility disputed that conclusion Wednesday, according to The Times.

“We have painstakingly reviewed all aspects of our infrastructure and damage to it by the fire and have found no indication that our equipment caused or contributed to the ignition of the fire,” said an agency statement. “Despite the allegations in the lawsuit, we have not been provided with any information or evidence indicating that LADWP was the source of the fire.”

The Creek fire broke out during what would prove to be a game-changing fire season for California.

Two months earlier, a series of deadly wind-driven fires sparked by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. equipment ravaged Northern California’s wine country, where they destroyed thousands of homes.

Then on Dec. 4, Southern California Edison equipment sparked the wind-driven Thomas fire in Ventura County, which killed two people and burned more than 280,000 acres.

In October, both Edison and PG&E opted to shut off power to thousands of customers amid the dry, windy conditions that caused their equipment to fail and spark fires in the past. Both companies were heavily criticized for the move.

LADWP, however, did not follow suit. The utility’s territory is mostly urban but does involve equipment in zones designated by the state as having an “elevated” or “extreme” fire risk. DWP officials say they mitigate those risks through vegetation clearance and equipment maintenance, among other efforts.

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