Denver Fire Department crews battle flames in Boulder County on Dec. 30, 2021. (Denver Fire Department)
One month since investigators announced the cause of the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, there are multiple lawsuits filed against Xcel Energy over the role investigators say its equipment played in igniting the blaze.
The Dec. 30, 2021, wildfire was the most destructive in Colorado history, destroying more than 1,000 homes, burning over 6,000 acres and causing more than $2 billion in property damage.
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In June, investigators announced that they found the fire was caused in part by a faulty Xcel Energy power line that sent burning pieces into dry brush at a Boulder County trailhead. That ignition combined with a debris fire at a nearby property owned by the Twelve Tribes religious cult. The two fires merged to become the Marshall Fire, investigators said.
Xcel Energy is Colorado’s largest utility.
Boulder County officials did not file any criminal charges against Xcel Energy or Twelve Tribes for their role in the Marshall Fire, but their findings left the door open for civil litigation. The civil lawsuits against Xcel are all in Boulder County District Court.
Insurance companies seek damages
Last week, over 150 insurance companies that insured damaged properties filed a lawsuit seeking to reclaim an unspecified amount of money it paid in settlements to victims. The lawsuit alleges negligence for Xcel’s lack of maintenance on the power line and failure to take precautionary measures during the high winds on the day of the fire.
“Prior to December 30, 2021, Xcel Energy failed to properly design, construct, inspect, maintain, repair, manage, and/or operate its Electrical Equipment pursuant to the applicable NESC safety standards, accepted engineering practice in the electric industry, and pursuant to any other applicable codes or standards. As a result, Xcel Energy’s Electrical Equipment caused a fire near the Marshall Mesa Trailhead which ultimately became the Marshall Fire,” the lawsuit reads.
The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial.
Firm known for Camp Fire lawsuit focuses on Marshall Fire
Another lawsuit, filed Monday in Boulder County District Court, comes on the behalf of two survivors of the Marshall Fire. Edelson PC has a specialized wildfire legal team that has worked on litigation in the wake of the 2020 Oregon Labor Day fires and the 2018 Camp Fire in California. Both of those fires were also the subject of litigation and involved faulty overhead power lines.
The firm is representing John Uridil and Julia Uridil, who had property damaged in the fire. They are also seeking a jury trial.
The lawsuit argues that Xcel has a duty to enact “policies and safeguards to protect the public from the risk of fire — particularly during adverse weather conditions — and (take) action when such conditions arise, such as through a public safety power shutoff.” It alleges negligence, trespassing, public and private nuisance, wanton conduct and infliction of emotional distress.
Coalition of survivors sue after investigation released
Another lawsuit was filed in Boulder County District Court almost immediately after officials released their investigation in early June.
At least two dozen plaintiffs are represented by Marshall Fire Attorneys, a group of fire litigation firms. Those plaintiffs are seeking damages for the loss of their property, loss of wages, evacuation expenses and medical expenses.
Class action lawsuit filed in 2022
In March 2022, over a year before officials laid partial blame on Xcel Energy, Denver Injury Law filed a class action lawsuit against the utility. It alleged that sparks from an Xcel Energy power line caused the Marshall Fire, before investigators publicly released that conclusion. That case is still ongoing.
They claim inverse condemnation, negligence, premises liability, trespass, public nuisance, private nuisance and loss of consortium.
“Plaintiffs here establish a plausible and reasonable inference that Defendants’ power lines, known to contain potential for fire danger, arced and thereby caused the Marshall Fire. They further allege that better maintenance or construction could have prevented the arcing or reduced the Marshall Fire’s impact,” the class action suit reads.
Xcel Energy did not return a request for comment. The company has previously denied that its power lines were responsible for starting the Marshall Fire.
“We strongly disagree with any suggestion that Xcel Energy’s power lines caused the second ignition,” an Xcel spokesman said in a statement on the day last month Boulder investigators announced their findings. “Xcel Energy did not have the opportunity to review and comment on the analyses relied on by the Sheriff’s Office and believes those analyses are flawed and their conclusions are incorrect.”
About 250 join one complaint
About 250 people and other entities joined a lawsuit against Xcel Energy July 10.
The complaint alleges the Xcel “failed to properly design, construct, inspect, maintain, repair, manage, and/or operate its Electrical Equipment” and as a result its equipment “caused a fire near the Marshall Mesa Trailhead which ultimately became the Marshall Fire.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a new lawsuit filed July 10.
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