File photo of smoke from South Obenchain Fire in 2020

Trial begins this week in lawsuit linking Pacific Power to 2020 fires

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Jury selection began Monday for a trial in which utility company PacifiCorp will have to defend itself against claims that its negligence resulted in several of the devastating wildfires that burned across Oregon during a historic wind event in September 2020.

The class action lawsuit was first filed at the end of September 2020, shortly after the fires, by a Linn County couple who lost their homes to the Beachie Creek Fire. The complaint grew to include survivors of the Echo Mountain Fire in Lincoln County, the South Obenchain Fire in Jackson County, the 242 Fire in Klamath County and the Santiam Canyon Fire — the last one formed by the merger of multiple large fires, including Beachie Creek.

According to the complaint, Pacific Power and its parent company failed to de-energize power lines in areas of particular risk, despite forecasts warning of a historic wind event and extreme fire danger.

As a result, the lawsuit continues, trees brought down active power lines — sparking some of the fires that destroyed hundreds, if not thousands of homes, businesses and other structures, resulting in several deaths.

“This devastation could have been avoided if Defendants had turned off the power surging through their power lines,” the complaint alleges. “Instead, PacifiCorp and Pacific Power prioritized dollars over livelihoods and lives.”

In November, PacifiCorp settled with a couple who had sued over their losses in the Archie Creek Fire in Douglas County, another of the Labor Day weekend fires.

No such settlement has been reached in this case, and jury selection began Monday. Opening arguments are scheduled to begin Tuesday and the trial is expected to last into mid-June. Plaintiffs are seeking damages in excess of $1.6 billion.

In a filing Monday, PacifiCorp attorneys said there was no explicit request from government officials to de-energize power lines ahead of the storms.

The defense attorneys argued for the ability to cross-examine Nik Blosser, former Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s Chief of Staff, saying that the plaintiffs “intend to give him a starring role in testifying.”

PacifiCorp is a Portland-based company, and the trial will take place in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

As a result of these devastating fires and state-level rule changes, Oregon power companies have become more aggressive with power shutoffs in subsequent years.

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