PacifiCorp Ordered to Pay $85M to Oregon Wildfire Victims

    PacifiCorp Ordered to Pay $85M to Oregon Wildfire Victims
    Photo: David Ryder/Stringer/Getty Images News via Getty Images North America

    The Facts

    • Nine survivors of the deadly 2020 Oregon wildfires on Tuesday were awarded $85M by a jury. The fires — one of the worst disasters in the state's history — claimed nine lives, burned over 1.8 square miles (4.8 sq km), and destroyed some 5K buildings.

    • PacifiCorp, the utility being forced to pay the award, said it expects to be responsible for a little less than $80M after post-verdict rulings and insurance payments.

    The Spin

    Narrative A

    Regardless of its reasoning, PacifiCorp took the wrong approach to the 2020 fires, which were among the worst in Oregon's history. It was negligent when it didn't de-energize the power lines — even after it was warned by officials and emergency responders. Every penny PacifiCorp pays to the victims is justice being served.

    Narrative B

    Hopefully, PacifiCorp will not only compensate victims of the fires but also learn what it did wrong to avoid more damaging incidents. But it's going to take more than just the utility acting differently to limit wildfire damage in the face of climate change and the historic suppression of fire. The government must beef up its fire response teams and make sure they're on call all year round. Scapegoating a single utility provider without addressing the systemic issues is not a long-term solution.

    Nerd narrative

    There's a 50% chance that wildfires will destroy a total exceeding 10Mha of global tree cover in any year by the end of 2030, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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