- A New Mexico jury has found Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative to be 75% responsible for a 2011 fire that burned up 156,000 acres, the Albuquerque Journal reports.
- Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which provided power to the utility, was found to be 20% responsible and the U.S. Forest Service took a little blame as well.
- The jury concluded the cooperative should have identified a tree, which was diseased and leaning, as a potential threat to its power line.
At the time, the Las Conchas wildfire was the biggest fire in New Mexico's history. The blaze started when a gust of wind felled an aspen tree, downing a Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative power line. While plaintiffs say the utility should have identified the tree as a threat, the utility argued it was unable to see the tree from its right of way.
The Albuquerque Journal reported on the case and jury deliberations. Al Green, counsel for JMEC, told the newspaper that the utility would accept the decision. A spokesman for Tri-State said the company was disappointed, but grateful the jury recognized that JMEC and the power provider operate independently. A separate trial, to determine damages, will be held next year.
Wildfires in the West are among the biggest threats to utilities.
In California, PG&E had to repair the grid after a wildfire wiped out power to tens of thousands last month, downing many of the utility's lines and poles. A PG&E-owned power line was also suspected of sparking the deadly Butte fire, which killed two people and burnt up more than 70,000 acres in the Sierra foothills.
The historical drought has contributed to 12 million dead trees in the state's forested areas, essentially transforming it into a tinderbox for one of the most volatile fire seasons.