Calpine to pay $7.9 million to open space district, landowners for 2004 Geysers fire

Sonoma County's open space district and associated property owners will get $7.9 million as part of a settlement of a lawsuit against Calpine Corp. over damage to county-protected lands in the 2004 Geysers Fire.

The county's share of the settlement is $3.77 million.

The 12,525-acre blaze swept over the Mayacmas Mountains in Sonoma and Lake counties and scorched about 4,600 acres protected under conservation easements owned by the county's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

The fire, which started on Sept. 3, was traced back to a splice in a high-voltage line that showered dry grass with hot metal when the line short-circuited, according to a state investigation.

At peak staffing, it took 2,621 firefighters and support personnel from local, state and federal agencies using 176 engines, 25 bulldozers, 20 truck tankers, seven air tankers and 19 helicopters to put out the eight-day blaze.

Lost in the fire were six cabins, about a dozen vehicles and power and communications equipment belonging to companies including PG&E, SBC and Calpine, the largest geothermal operator at The Geysers.

Legal battles sprung up in the aftermath. The state sought to recover $14 million in firefighting costs from Calpine. It ultimately got about $10.8 million from a 2010 settlement with the company.

The Northern California Power Agency, which owns power plants at The Geysers, also sued Calpine for lost income because of the fire. Its settlement included up to $1.5 million for damage to power and communications equipment.

Altogether, up to 50 claims were filed against Calpine over the fire. Most have been settled.

The 2009 lawsuit filed by the open space district and several associated landowners sought money to cover land values and natural resources damaged by the fire.

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