Subscribe

More Sonoma County residents sue PG&E over wildfires

PG&E construction operator Anthony Virrueta, left, and gas foreman John Bacon work to clear burned power lines along O'Donnell Lane in Glen Ellen, on Wednesday, October 18, 2017. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

PAUL PAYNE,

All it took Lars and Ulla Tandrup was a single glance at the blazing facade of their Quietwater Ridge home early Oct. 9 to realize they couldn’t reach their cars and would have to run for their lives.

Lars Tandrup grabbed his cellphone and 9-month-old Goldendoodle, Obi, and he and his wife dashed out the door in their pajamas.

By the time they’d run the three-quarters of a mile to Mark West Springs Road and flagged down passing cars, both were badly burned.

Now, they are among 107 people who have filed nine separate complaints alleging Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s poor maintenance of its high-voltage lines caused the Sonoma County fires that destroyed almost 7,000 homes and killed 23 people.

The Tandrups were admitted to Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco where Ulla, 48, is still being treated for burns over 25 percent of her body.

“It was a nasty experience,” said her husband, 49, a tech business consultant who suffered serious burns to his legs and feet. “Based on the information I’ve seen I think PG&E is liable for what happened.”

The number of litigants has grown since Coffey Park residents Wayne and Jennifer Harvell were the first to sue the utility eight days after the Tubbs fire leveled their house.

Since then, their attorney, Bill Robins, has filed suits on behalf of about 25 other fire victims. Another Southern California-based firm has 70 clients and several other Sonoma County residents have separate filings, Robins said.

He has asked San Francisco Superior Court to consolidate all the cases under one judge in anticipation of hundreds of more lawsuits.

“It’s important because we expect there to be thousands of cases,” he said.

Cal Fire is still investigating the cause of the fires which started under hot, windy conditions. A PG&E spokesman said the company was continuing to comply with the investigation.

“We won’t speculate about any of the causes of the fires,” spokesman Donald Cutler said in an email Wednesday.

But state regulators Tuesday revealed that PG&E reported 20 “electric safety incidents” in eight counties the night of Oct. 8-9, including at least four locations in Sonoma County: Santa Rosa, Geyserville, Kenwood and Glen Ellen. It reported at least three locations in Napa County and one near Ukiah. The exact locations were redacted in the reports from the California Public Utilities Commission.

The reports said PG&E blamed heavy winds and downed trees for damaging its equipment.

Damage estimates for the fires have exceeded $3 billion.

The Tandrups were awakened the morning of the fire by a call from a neighbor who warned them to evacuate. They had just recently moved into the 4,500-square-foot home.

They were forced to run toward the encroaching fire to get to the main road, past their neighbors’ burning homes and towering trees fully ablaze.

At some point, his wife’s nightgown caught fire and she was burned as they tried to remove it. His pajama pants started to burn so he ripped them off too, leaving him naked from the waist down.

In the confusion they became separated. She was picked up by a firetruck and taken initially to Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.

Lars Tandrup, his dog under his arm, couldn’t get the first car to stop. But a second set of headlights followed closely behind and the car with an older couple in it pulled over.

“I literally just jumped out in front of them to make sure they stopped,” he said. “I was still carrying the puppy and had on no pants.”

He spent the next two weeks in the hospital for treatment of his burns and has since moved into a San Francisco apartment to wait for his wife to recover. She’s been through surgery and had several skin grafts, remaining under heavy sedation.

Last year, a Cal Fire found PG&E responsible for the 2015 Butte fire, which destroyed 549 homes and killed two people. The fire was sparked by a tree that fell into a power line near the Amador County community of Jackson. The California Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $8.3 million for the fire, and the utility could be held liable for more than $1 billion in claims damages.

In 2015, regulators fined PG&E $1.6 billion for the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion, which killed eight people.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.