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Mass action lawsuit alleges Xcel Energy is to blame for Marshall Fire

A group of 24 Marshall Fire victims has filed a mass action lawsuit against Xcel Energy, on the day it was revealed Xcel equipment played a role in sparking the destructive blaze.
Posted: 10:53 AM, Jun 08, 2023
Updated: 2023-06-08 19:39:35-04
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Lawyers representing victims of the Marshall Fire on Thursday filed a mass action lawsuit against Xcel Energy, claiming the energy provider is to blame for the most destructive fire in Colorado history.

It seeks economic and non-economic damages for the role Xcel played in the devastating blaze. Twenty-four plaintiffs, including homeowners and community members, are part of the lawsuit.

Jacki Kramer lost everything in the flames, and is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. She remembers the day she had to flee her home clearly.

“All I had was my purse. I wasn't wearing socks even. It was wintertime. Left my winter jacket. We ran,” Kramer said.

Kramer says while the lawsuit won’t bring back what she lost, accountability is still important.

“There's a certain gratification that I am getting that someone will be held responsible for my loss and everybody else's loss,” she said.

The lawsuit, filed in Boulder County’s District Court Thursday, alleges “Xcel Energy’s power lines and energy utility equipment caused the Marshall Fire, which led to significant harm to the environment and public health.”

The group of attorneys behind the suit released this statement to Denver7:

"The survivors of the Marshall Fire have been suffering through this event for 17 months and their struggle won't end anytime soon. Today, the Boulder County Sheriff's office has peeled back the curtain as to the cause of the fire and we now know Xcel Energy was responsible for starting the fire. We have filed a lawsuit on behalf of those survivors against Xcel today and we will not stop fighting until they have fully recovered."

Xcel Energy release this statement to Denver7 in response to the lawsuit:

Our thoughts are with the families and communities impacted by the devastating wildfire in Boulder County. We agree with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office report that the Marshall Fire started as a result of an ignition on a property (5325 Eldorado Springs Drive) previously reported to be affiliated with an entity called the Twelve Tribes, and that this ignition had nothing to do with Xcel Energy’s powerlines. The Sheriff’s report cites several potential causes for a second ignition near the Marshall Mesa Trailhead that started roughly an hour after the first fire. We believe the second fire burned into an area already burned by the fire from the first ignition, and did not cause damage to any homes or businesses. We strongly disagree with any suggestion that Xcel Energy’s powerlines caused the second ignition, which according to the report started 80 to 110 feet away from Xcel Energy’s powerlines in an area with underground coal fire activity. Xcel Energy did not have the opportunity to review and comment on the analyses relied on by the Sheriff’s Office and believes those analyses are flawed and their conclusions are incorrect.  We have reviewed our maintenance records and believe the system was properly maintained. We operate and maintain our electric system consistent with leading energy service practices and we’re proud of our employees and the work they do to deliver safe, reliable and clean energy to our communities. As members of the Boulder community, we will continue to support our neighbors in this recovery.

The lawsuit was announced on the same day the Boulder County Sheriff's Office revealed the findings of its investigation into the cause and origin of the Marshall Fire, which burned more than 6,000 acres and destroyed over 1,000 homes.

That investigation found hot particles from a disconnected Xcel power line caused one ignition point in the massive blaze. Embers from a residential fire, which was set on Dec. 24 and reignited by wind six days later, was the source of another ignition point, according to the investigation.

Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said in that press conference that no charges would be filed against Xcel Energy because there is "insufficient evidence a crime was committed."

The residents responsible for the buried fire would also not face charges, Dougherty said.

“This fire was terribly destructive and traumatic for so many people,” he said. “We make our decisions about charging criminal offenses by evidence and not based on emotion. We’ve gone through all of the evidence in the case and what I want to really stress to the community is: If we were to tell you today that we were filing charges, it would be wrong and unethical.”

hanging line in marshall fire

Marshall Fire

Sheriff: Marshall Fire likely began as a result of buried fire, broken Xcel line

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The utility company has said that there is no evidence linking its equipment to the fire. In a statement sent to Denver7 in March, the company said:

“We’re aware of the filing and we’re currently reviewing it. As you know, the cause of the fire is still under investigation and we continue to work with authorities. Our own investigation shows that our equipment in the area of the fire was properly maintained and inspected, consistent with our high standards, and we have not seen evidence that our equipment ignited the fire.”

During the press conference Thursday, Sheriff Johnson showed a photo of one of the involved power lines, which had visible material missing from the line. It was not initially recognized during the inspection of the fire in the wake of the fire because the line had been reattached to the cross arm on Jan. 2, 2022 "in an effort to restore power to the area as quickly as possible," he said. Thousands of homes in the area did not have power after the fire and snow fell over the area on Dec. 31, 2021. Heating homes was a serious concern and there were urgent requests for Xcel Energy to restore power as fast as possible.

"This repair seemed to have possibly been performed in violation of a 'do not repair' order that Xcel Energy had issued on Dec. 31, 2021, to preserve the system until a cause and origin investigation could be completed," the investigative summary reads. "... The Xcel Energy employees involved in the repair process eventually participated in voluntary interviews with investigators. Those interviews, and all other available documentary evidence, indicates that Xcel repaired the disconnected line on Jan. 2, 2022, solely to restore power to customers."

The Marshall Fire Attorneys will hold a town hall event this Saturday, to answer questions from the public and welcome other victims to join their mass action lawsuit. It’s happening at the Louisville Recreation and Senior Center at 2 p.m.

Denver7 Investigates is following this story throughout the day Thursday and will update this article.

Boulder Sheriff Curtis Johnson gets emotional remembering loss of home in the Marshall Fire
Denver Fire Dept firefighters at Marshall Fire Dec 30 2021

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