[UPDATED with $70 mil Award:] Yorba Linda Water District Settles Suit Over '08 Freeway Complex Fire

See update at the end of this post about an arbitrator awarding homeowners an additional $70 million.

[UPDATED with $70 mil Award:] Yorba Linda Water District Settles Suit Over '08 Freeway Complex Fire

ORIGINAL POST, JULY 16, 5:10 P.M.: Homes were rebuilt, new sage scrub grew in and everyone seems to have gotten on with their lives.

Indeed, all that was pretty much left from the Freeway Complex Fire that scorched Brea, Yorba Linda, Anaheim Hills, Corona and Diamond Bar in November 2008 was the litigation.

Until now.

At least it is when it comes to the $60 million lawsuit some residents and their insurance companies filed against the Yorba Linda Water District (YLWD), which was accused of failing to provide enough water to battle the massive blaze that torched hillsides in three counties and 110 homes alone just in Yorba Linda.

Freeway Complex Fire Legal Claim! Ding-Ding-Ding! Freeway Complex Fire Legal Claim!

A house burns to the ground in Yorba Linda during the nightmarish Freeway Complex Fire.
A house burns to the ground in Yorba Linda during the nightmarish Freeway Complex Fire.
Photos by Ted Soqui/OC Weekly

Without admitting liability, the water district has settled the suit for $5 million, according to a statement from the agency. Included is this from Phil Hawkins, president of the water district's board:

"YLWD believes there was no basis to establish liability as alleged in the complaints. While we continue to dispute the allegations, the District believes it is in the best interest of our customers to conclude the fire cases and avoid the cost and distraction of protracted litigation.  While we are very sensitive to the painful losses suffered by the homeowners, the Board made the prudent decision to resolve the cases because millions of dollars would be required to continue the litigation and ensuing appeals to establish non-liability. This agreement allows us to focus on what we do best; provide reliable services and high-quality water to the residents of Yorba Linda and portions of Placentia, Brea, Anaheim and areas of unincorporated Orange County."  

The district had based its defense on the fact that, technically, it "volunteers" in providing water to fires, that the agency itself had no hand in igniting the county line-hopping fire and that the massive blaze itself prevented water company personnel from getting to remote stations to improve water flow.

Add Another Lawsuit to the List for Oil Company Operating in Brea

Nonetheless, the water flow was 10 times more than dictated by industry standards, according to the district, which notes it has also opened new reservoirs and made other upgrades that should help in the future.

Slideshow: Yorba Linda Fire Photos

According to Hawkins, the $5 million will come from reserve funds, and the district is seeking to recoup that loss from its insurer, a division of AIG.

UPDATE, JULY 20, 7 A.M.: An arbitrator has awarded 12 of 19 homeowners who sued the Yorba Linda Water District $70 million for failing to provide adequate water to firefighters battling the Freeway Complex Fire.

Retired Judge John K. Trotter ruled firefighters had adequate water to deal with the fire scorching the other seven residences, the Orange County Register reports.

The homeowners will now join the water district in its suit against its insurer, the Register reports.

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