Sunday night in Boulder, Colorado was very enlightening and educational. I focused intently on a presentation by my co-counsel Dan Whalen and his amazing and experienced fire rescue team at Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack. They discussed the science and laws applicable to the Marshall Fire and legal action against companies responsible for contributing to wildfires.
Power lines are a major cause of forest fires. An article published by Texas A&M, How do power lines cause forest fires?, notes that in Texas alone, “power lines have caused more than 4,000 wildfires … in the past three and a half years.”; Regarding row slams, the article stated:
Conductor runout – Power lines are designed with enough clearance between the conductors to prevent them from contacting each other under most operating conditions. However, some unusual circumstances can cause management leaders to merge. Conductor bursts create high-energy arcing and eject hot metal particles that can ignite combustible material at ground level. Also, where wire conductors are made of aluminum, the ejected particles can burn as they fall.
In connection with line monitoring efforts at several energy companies, TEES has documented several cases of a phenomenon known as fault-induced conductor slippage (FICS). FICS occurs when a fault at one location on a circuit creates sufficient magnetic forces to cause line conductors at another location, perhaps a mile or more away, to swing together and cause a second, nearly simultaneous fault. Conventional tools and processes available to energy companies often do not enable accurate diagnosis of this phenomenon. However, TEES technology detects and reports FICS, allowing for corrective action. Correct diagnosis is important because field research shows that a linebacker experiencing an episode of FICS is likely to experience additional episodes in the future, unless the condition is identified and corrected. Detecting an episode of FICS, perhaps during a period of moderate fire risk, allows for corrective action that eliminates subsequent episodes, which might otherwise have occurred at times of high risk.
One thing is certain – there is photographic and video evidence that a line strike occurred around the time the Marshall Fire started.
So why is Merlin Law Group partnering with Dan Whalen and his team to represent the victims of the Marshall Fire? Most of those affected by the fire have not been fully compensated by the insurance. Destroyed homes and businesses damaged by the fire were usually far underinsured. Furthermore, all policies have lower limits of coverage and do not pay for many financial damages.
I have known Dan Whalen for over a decade. A key aspect of Whalen’s approach is his ability to work collaboratively and creatively with a team. His interdisciplinary approach combines legal, scientific and technical expertise, strengthening the strength of his fire recovery cases and ensuring that no detail is overlooked. Whalen’s strategies, backed by facts, have allowed him to cut through many companies’ deflection tactics using tools and get to the heart of each case. His team has successfully worked on over 100 forest fire cases involving tools.
So when Dan asked me if my team would join his to help those suffering from the Marshall Fire, I felt honored that he asked us to do so. Merlin Law Group’s work is primarily limited to insurance disputes. But the truth is, many of our Marshall Fire customers also have uninsured injuries. Taking on this cause will help them and their community.
I will be writing much more about the Marshall Fire and the role that utilities have played in starting wildfires. If you have any questions, you can call me at 813.695.8733.
What is a soul? It’s like electricity – we don’t really know what it is, but it’s a force that can light up a room.
– Ray Charles