Santa Rosa wildfire victims take on utilities, state legislature

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- Larkfield Estates is another neighborhood in the north bay firestorm zone with too many homeless mailboxes and charred memories. "It's Armageddon, right?" asked resident Laura Hansen.

It became a venue Wednesday for a press conference featuring wildfire victims giving a heads-up to the California State Legislature and publicly owned utilities. They say the timing of talks about limiting liabilities after wildfires feel insensitive.

RELATED: Key hearing held on PG&E's North Bay wildfire liability rate hikes

"I think it is horrid. If I were a state legislator I would not allow this discussion, right now," said Phil Demery, who lost his home.

PG&E has already primed investors to expect billions of dollars in liabilities following powerlines that sparked fires last October, and there may be more. The state's inverse condemnation laws do not protect PG&E or utilities after natural disasters if their equipment is involved.

"If we reform inverse condemnation it does not absolve PG&E from accountability. Victims can still sue PG&E. It would be up to a judge and jury to decide," said Deanna Contreras, who speaks for PG&E in the North Bay.

RELATED: Santa Rosa fire chief, captains recount first night of North Bay wildfires

But it will be a tougher legal test. Fire victims and local officials described attempts to change liability laws a as a closed-door move. How can the legislature make a decision about utilities, they ask, without input from fire victims?

"This is the new normal. They are trying to change laws to fit the new normal," said James Gore, President of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. "The best way to avoid a negative situation is to get involved early."

And so, fire victims and local officials want a place in these discussions. It takes a victim, they say, to recognize one.

For more stories, photos, and video on the North Bay fires, visit this page.
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