Devastating Malibu Wildfire
In the early morning hours of October 21, 2007, three wooden utility poles broke and fell to the ground on Malibu Canyon Road approximately three miles north of the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif. Two of the poles that failed supported six high voltage power line conductors. When the poles collapsed, the energized conductors arced and ignited the dry brush below, resulting in the Malibu Canyon Fire. Ultimately, the fire spread and engulfed more than 3,800 acres in the Malibu area, destroying 14 structures and 36 vehicles, damaging at least 19 other structures, and forcing the evacuation of homes and businesses in the area. The total damages incurred were in excess of $40,000,000. The defendants, a utility company and multiple telecommunication companies, asserted an act of God defense, arguing that the loss resulted solely due to hurricane force winds that pushed the poles over. Cozen O’Connor’s Howard Maycon and Mark Roth rebutted the defense by employing a computational fluid dynamic analysis of the winds in the canyon, taking into account the topography of the canyon, to prove the winds were not unforeseeable. The matter was vigorously litigated for more than three years and settled at mediation.