One month after the Boulder County District Attorney and Sheriff’s office released the results of their investigative report into the 2021 Marshall fire along Highway 93, two lawsuits were filed alleging negligent maintenance on the part of Minnesota-based Xcel Energy, according to various news sources. More than 1,000 homes and businesses were destroyed and two deaths were reported in the Colorado wildfire.
The report concluded the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history fire had two ignition points including the reignition of embers at a legal burn site on private property and an Xcel power line that arced after it disconnected amid high winds and sent hot particles into dry grass. The utility company has denied that its power lines played a role in fueling the fire.
Some of the nearly 200 insurance companies are represented by Edelson PC, the same law firm that successfully sued PG&E in California as a result of the 2018 Camp wildfires.
The most recent lawsuit alleges Xcel’s power line south of Boulder near the intersection of Highway 93 and Marshal Road “was old and again, unsafe, and/or vulnerable to weather and environmental conditions,” and that Xcel was negligent for not shutting down the line prior to the onset of the storm.
Following the 2018 California wildfire that killed 82 people, PG&E started shutting off power when high winds are predicted, leading to widespread blackouts. The fire started when a hanger on a nearly 100-year-old high-voltage tower failed, allowing the line to spark against the tower, according to reports. The Camp fire resulted in PG&E filing for bankruptcy and settling with fire victims and others for more than $25 billion.
An Xcel spokesperson declined to confirm whether Xcel has a policy for shutting down power lines during windstorms.
The Colorado Sun reported that Todd Logan, an attorney with Edelson PC, said the firm plans to file hundreds of lawsuits against Xcel, including dozens in the coming weeks, primarily representing owners whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the fire.
While there won’t be criminal charges, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty indicated that the burden of proof for civil liability is much lower than that for criminal liability, which is beyond a reasonable doubt.