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Sprint, Verizon, AT&T sign $12 million settlement over 2007 Malibu Canyon fire

Canyon Fire, October 2007.
Canyon Fire, October 2007.
Larry Cummings VPP LACOFD

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California utility regulators have settled a dispute with three telecommunication companies over responsibility for a wildfire in Malibu five years ago. 

When Santa Ana winds swept through Malibu Canyon in October of 2007, they knocked over three utility poles. Those poles sparked a fire that burned nearly 4,000 square acres. It destroyed 14 structures and three dozen cars.

Cell phone companies had antennas on the poles, or shared pole ownership with other telecommunication companies. The California Public Utilities Commission investigated whether these five companies contributed to the fire by unsafely mounting equipment there.

The settlement just announced resolves liability for three companies: Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T. Together they’ll pay $12 million in equal shares. About $7 million will go to the state’s general fund and the rest goes into a new utility pole inspection fund.

The Public Utilities Commission is still investigating two more companies, Southern California Edison and NextG. Regulators say the settlement can help deter other utilities that maintain electronic equipment in wildland or fire-prone areas.