San Diego Gas & Electric customers should not have to pay for the 2007 wildfires -- fires that officials say were sparked by poorly maintained power lines, the U.S. Supreme Court decided.
The utility company’s last-ditch appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court Monday morning.
On Lancashire Way in Rancho Bernardo, 26 out of the 53 homes on a single block burned to the ground. Homeowners like Daniel Crane told NBC7 that it’s about time SDG&E took responsibility and paid their due.
“It's emblazoned in your mind,” Crane said, recalling the fire that destroyed his home 12 Octobers ago.
The Witch Creek, Rice and Guejito Fires merged as they tore through San Diego County, killing two people, sending 40 firefighters to the hospital, and reducing 1,300 homes to rubble.
“There was nothing left,” Crane said. “My wife described it as a graveyard.”
Regulators would later blame SDG&E for starting the fires, saying the utility neglected its power lines.
The finding resulted in a pricey bill -- one SDG&E has been trying to deflect onto its customers ever since, launching a legal battle that's lasted more than a decade. However, that battle ended Monday with a refusal from the Supreme Court to hear the utility's appeal.
“Even if your house wasn't touched by the fire,” said damage economics expert Randall Bell, Ph.D. “You could still be hurt by the damage done to your community.”
“So, any step towards restitution for those that were damaged is good news for everyone,” Bell, who testified in this case, said.
In a statement, SDG&E said it’s “disappointed” with the court's decision, insisting circumstances beyond their control caused the fires.
Back in Rancho Bernardo, at least one homeowner who lost everything, sees it differently.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Crane said. “There is no joy in this. There is no joy in any of this. It's not joyful, it's painful. So, it's the right thing to do.”
In its petition for appeal, SDG&E argued the judge who ruled against them was biased -- saying she should have recused herself from the case because her home was also destroyed in the wildfires. The Supreme Court found otherwise.
Read SDG&E's full statement below:
“SDG&E is disappointed in today’s US Supreme Court decision denying our petition regarding its Wildfire Expense Memorandum Application. SDG&E has shown that the fires occurred due to circumstances beyond our control, but nevertheless the application to spread the costs through rates was denied.
“Despite this legal outcome, SDG&E remains committed to help strengthen wildfire preparedness and prevention and will continue our collaboration with other regional leaders to protect our customers and help prevent wildfires from devastating the communities we serve.
“SDG&E has long been recognized as an innovative leader in wildfire safety by state legislators and regulators. Since 2007, SDG&E has invested about $1.5 billion to implement robust programs and technologies to help defend our communities against wildfires, including a dense weather network, a system of mountaintop wildfire detection cameras, an aggressive program to replace wooden poles with steel poles, and build community partnerships to improve this region’s overall ability to respond to wildfires.”