County mulls lawsuit over Croy wildfire

GILROY
– Santa Clara County officials are contemplating whether to sue
the owners of site where the Croy fire started last month for not
having a permit for the solar system suspected to have ignited the
blaze.
GILROY – Santa Clara County officials are contemplating whether to sue the owners of site where the Croy fire started last month for not having a permit for the solar system suspected to have ignited the blaze.

Fire investigators narrowed the cause of the fire, which cost $8.8 million to fight, to a solar power system connected to a trailer at 7900 Croy Road. The county found that the property owners, whose names have not been released, do not have a permit for such a system, meaning county inspectors would not have inspected the device for safety.

According to Deputy County Council Lizanne Reynolds, not only the county can sue the property owners, but neighbors and other agencies, like the California Department of Forestry, can sue to recover costs associated with the fire.

“The county sustained costs in responding to the fire,” she said. “We’ve been spending a lot of time in the aftermath trying to help people.”

Taking the property owners to court would not only give the county an opportunity to regain some of the cost of fighting the fire, she said, but would make other property owners aware of the dangers associated with violating permit regulations.

“It sends a message that violating county ordinances is not tolerated,” Reynolds said.

A decision on whether to go ahead with litigation won’t be made until Oct. 28 because the county board of supervisors must meet in a closed session to discuss the matter.

County Supervisor Don Gage said he isn’t sure a law suit is a good idea.

“I have to figure out what we’re going to accomplish,” he said. “Suing them isn’t going to go anywhere.”

Gage said it is unrealistic any money would be retrieved from suing the property owners at 7900 Croy Road, and it would actually cost the county money.

“They think the cause was the solar system, but they don’t know,” said Gage, who added that the county would have to pay to bring in specialists and investigators to find out exactly how the solar panels triggered the fire and to build a case against the property owners.

“By the time you’re through, you’ve spent thousands of dollars, and for what?” he asked.

According to Reynolds, the county needs to look into whether or not it would be worthwhile to sue the property owners.

“Poor people don’t get sued because they don’t have money,” she said. “If they have money, they should have to pay for their actions.”

Gage said his attention has not been focused on who to blame, but for the people who have lost everything in the blaze, which burned more than 3,000 acres and destroyed 34 homes.

“There are people out there who don’t have homes and need help,” Gage said. “I’m trying to get people back on their feet.”

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