Central District of California | Southern California Edison, Tree Service and Telecommunications Companies Pay $22 Million to Settle Claims from the 2016 Rey Fire


LOS ANGELES – Southern California Edison (SCE); Utility Tree Service LLC (UTS); and Frontier Communications Holdings LLC have paid the United States $22 million to resolve claims on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service to recoup costs and damages associated with a 2016 wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest, the Justice Department announced today.

The Rey Fire ignited on August 18, 2016, when a tree fell onto powerlines and communication lines owned, respectively, by SCE and Frontier. In 2019, the United States filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Forest Service against SCE and Frontier — as well as UTS, which was SCE’s vegetation management contractor — to recover costs for the extensive damages that the Rey Fire caused.

The United States alleged that the impact of the tree on Frontier’s and SCE’s lines caused a malfunction of SCE’s power equipment farther down the power lines and caused an energized power line to fall to the ground. The energized power line ignited adjacent dry vegetation. The Rey Fire burned more than 32,000 acres, including 19,000 acres of National Forest System lands in Santa Barbara County.

“This settlement will compensate the public for the expense of fighting the Rey Fire and restoring these federal lands that are enjoyed by all Americans,” First Assistant United States Attorney Joseph T. McNally said. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to aggressively pursue recovery against those who cause damages to our precious national resources.”

SCE, UTS, and Frontier agreed to pay the settlement without admitting wrongdoing or fault.

This case was handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Barragan and Margaret Chen of the Complex and Defensive Litigation Section.