Wildfires & Floods

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By 2007 the condo building boom of the 1990s had slowed down to a crawl. Not many new cases were coming in, and the defense lawyers for the thousands of cases brought in by TBM‘s Dirt Team had finally begun to go to trial or enter into serious settlement discussions. San Diego was built out; its suburban sprawl had run out of room, as crowded condos and block after block of stale McMansions pushed up against the foothills of the San Felipe Hills, the San Marcos Mountains, the San Isidro Mountains and others too numerous to mention. Fortunately, in order to preserve as much of its natural beauty as possible, San Diego has a building ordinance preventing development on or modification of slopes that are 20 degrees or greater.

But with development comes the need for power, and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) ran high-voltage lines through the pristine coastal foothill and mountain areas to meet the rapidly growing demand. The lines went up quickly since the laws regulating them were fairly simple: Install insulated spacers between the power lines. (High-tension lines are not insulated. Touch them and you instantly become a crispy critter.) The spacers are a cheap and quite effective way to prevent lines from sparking during high winds. Finally, the city ordered SDG&E to keep a regular schedule of brush removal beneath the lines. Keeping the brush cut back beneath the lines maximized the chances that, should sparking occur or a line snap during a very high windstorm, the fire would be small and quickly extinguished.

On Oct. 21, 2007, all the careful planning failed the real-world test. Broken and/or missing spacers were not there to protect the lines. The fire started and, for almost two terrifying weeks, raged out of control. It created $1.4 billion in damage and was not fully contained until Nov. 15. Over half a million people had to be evacuated during the fire.


The M.U.D. Squad pioneered the field of wildfire litigation beginning with the 2007 Witch Creek fire (official name: Witch Creek-Guejito–Poomacha Complex Fire) in San Diego County that wiped out more than 1,000 homes and businesses, and since then, the squad has successfully handled thousands of wildfire victims from the Mexican border to Sonoma County.

In the wildfire case, the power company called the fire a natural disaster caused by high winds. Our team discovered the real cause was lack of proper maintenance. Insulated spacers were missing, causing the lines to spark and ignite the brush underneath. The brush should have been cleared, and while the power company had been warned to do so several times, in fact, they had never once cleared the brush. They failed to shut down the power to the lines when the fire marshall ordered them to do so at 10 a.m. They finally shut them down at 3 p.m. That’s what we call “an unnatural disaster.” Had the power company shut down the power to the lines when contacted by the fire marshall, who was actually standing next to the lines and watching them spark when he radioed them, there never would have been a Witch Creek fire.


The hand of man can contribute to or cause disasters in a variety of ways. It may appear that Mother Nature was in a bad mood and hard at work. But after careful investigation and years of experience, we have learned that construction defects can make the damage from natural disasters worse. Some of the many natural disasters that may be caused or worsened by negligence include:

  • Landslides and severe property damage resulting from overwatering or improper drainage
  • Wildfires caused by a power company’s improper line maintenance
  • Damage from ocean rise that developers failed to take into account
  • Flooding that stems from soil corrosion or poorly designed drainage
  • Earthquake damage that should have been mitigated by building techniques

At Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire, our team is dedicated to finding the responsible party for your property damage and holding them accountable. And we are very good at that.


Building your case on a strong legal foundation isn’t just a way to hold negligent people and companies responsible for the damage done to your property; it’s also an important first step to rebuilding your life. Contact us online or call 619-236-9363 to schedule an initial consultation, free of charge.



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