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Justice Department sues utility company over 2020 Bobcat Fire

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(LOS ANGELES) — The Department of Justice is seeking damages for one of the largest wildfires that’s ever burned in Los Angeles County.

In a complaint filed on Friday, federal prosecutors allege the Bobcat Fire, which burned over 114,500 acres in 2020, was caused by the negligence of utility company Southern California Edison and its tree maintenance contractor, Utility Tree Service.

The lawsuit alleges the two companies failed to properly maintain trees that came into contact with powerlines.

Forest Service investigators determined the Bobcat Fire ignited on Sept. 6, 2020, within the Angeles National Forest when a tree came in contact with a power line owned by Southern California Edison and maintained by both the utility company and Utility Tree Service, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges the two companies knew of the danger posed by the tree but “failed to take any action.”

A Southern California Edison spokesperson said the company is reviewing the DOJ’s legal action “and it would not be appropriate to discuss outside of the court process.”

“Our thoughts remain with the people who were affected by the Bobcat Fire, who lost homes, vehicles and were evacuated,” the spokesperson, Gabriela Ornelas, told ABC News.

ABC News has reached out to Utility Tree Service for comment.

The lawsuit claims the U.S. Forest Service spent more than $56 million to put out the Bobcat Fire and that the blaze incurred more than $65 million in property and natural resource damages. More than 99,000 acres within the Angeles National Forest burned, while 171 buildings and 178 vehicles were destroyed, among other damages, according to the lawsuit.

“The public has been prevented from recreating on the more than 100 miles of popular system trails and in numerous campgrounds within the burn area in the nearly three years following the fire,” the complaint states. “The fire effects have been, and will be, detrimental to habitats and wildlife, including the federally endangered wildlife-mountain yellowlegged frog and other federally threatened fish and birds. The fire also damaged and destroyed irreplaceable cultural and heritage resources.”

In July, Southern California Edison, Utility Tree Service and Frontier Communications Holdings paid the U.S. $22 million to resolve claims associated with a 2016 wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest, the Justice Department said.

That fire ignited when a tree fell onto powerlines and communication lines owned, respectively, by Southern California Edison and Frontier, the DOJ said.

All three companies agreed to pay the settlement without admitting wrongdoing or fault.

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