13 Dec 2009, 11:11am
Latest Fire News
by admin

San Francisco to pay $7 million for Stanislaus forest fires

Sacramento Bee, Dec. 12, 2009 [here]

The city of San Francisco has paid $7 million to settle federal claims for wildfire damage to a national forest allegedly caused by negligent maintenance of power line rights of way.

The 1999 Pilot fire and the 2004 Early fire burned 5,698 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest in Tuolumne County.

The fires resulted from trees growing too close to the high-voltage power transmission lines of Hetch Hetchy Water and Power, owned by San Francisco, according to two civil lawsuits brought by the federal government against the city and its utilities agency.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Swann, 1913 legislation granted the city rights of way on federal lands, including the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park, for a hydroelectric system that delivers year-round, potable water and power to San Francisco and neighboring communities.

Hetch Hetchy is charged with clearing the rights of way, and California law requires the agency to maintain a 10-foot clearance in all directions between its power lines and vegetation, Swann said.

The Pilot fire ignited on Aug. 23, 1999, about 10 miles east of Groveland. U.S. Forest Service investigators determined that the fire was sparked by an electrical discharge from a power line to a cedar tree that had grown to within a few feet of the line, a lawsuit in Sacramento federal court alleges.

On Aug. 9, 2004, the Early fire ignited about six miles northeast of the Pilot fire location. Forest Service investigators again established that the blaze was sparked by an electrical discharge from a power line to an oak tree, a lawsuit in Fresno federal court alleges.

Some settlement funds will finance restoration efforts, said Regional Forester Randy Moore.

Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the San Francisco city attorney’s office, said the settlement is “fair and avoids the added costs of litigation.”



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