2 ranchers sue Southern California Edison for Thomas Fire damages

VENTURA, Calif. (KABC) -- For 38 years, Rich Atmore has raised cattle, harvested avocado trees and managed upwards of 7,000 acres in Ventura County. He didn't lose his house in the Thomas Fire, but his ranch was devastated.

Video from our ABC7 drone showed how recent rains have turned some burned hillsides green again, but there's a long way to go.

"It's all the things around the ranch that aren't covered with insurance. Like the miles and miles of fence lines we'll spend years putting back together. It's the cattle and the genetics that we put into the herd," said Atmore.

Atmore and his wife Bonnie, along with Santa Paula rancher Bud Sloan and wife Kim filed lawsuits Thursday against Southern California Edison. They're seeking unspecified damages, accusing the company of causing the Thomas Fire.

"This being a potential for a high wind area. This being a place where there's dry brush and lots of fuel for fire. There's no circumstance here where Dec. 4 was an unforeseeable event. It was probably the most foreseeable thing to Edison," said Rahul Ravipudi, an attorney representing the Thomas Fire victims.

Panish, Shea & Boyle, one of the firms representing the fire victims, says the utility company failed to maintain their old equipment and didn't activate re-closers, which shut down power lines during a sparking event.

"They know how devastating this could be. Not to the land only, but to the people and everyone in the community, yet, they don't do anything to prevent it," said Brian Panish, an attorney for the Thomas Fire victims.

The attorneys say the damage to the Atmores' ranch is in the millions. But they admit it's hard to put a price tag on everything that goes into the maintenance and success of a ranch.

"It's part of our heart and our soul. It's not just what we we do for a living, it's who we are," said Atmore.

In response to the lawsuits, Southern California Edison said it would be premature for them to comment because the origin and cause of the Thomas fire are still under investigation.
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