GRAHAM, Pierce County — Darrell Herde lived on 244th Street for nearly 30 years, never considering the risk of wildfire. Not until the knock on his door when, still bleary-eyed with sleep, he opened it to see a firefighter and smoke.
Baseball-sized embers fell as the 40-foot trees above ignited, blackened and cracked from the heat. His home had already begun to burn.
In slippered feet, Herde, 72, briefly sprayed his mobile home with a garden hose against the furnace-like winds before fleeing in his Toyota Corolla.
Labor Day 2020, five houses were destroyed in rural Graham, under the shadow of Mount Rainier. The Red Cross gave each resident a bucket and shovel to sift through remains, but for Herde, there was little to salvage.
The fire flattened his trailer, hollowed out his garage, made ash of fishing poles and power tools, sucked honey from Mason jars, and gutted the 1967 Impala he had recently restored. Fire twisted the car’s windshield into a cylindrical spike, like an unnatural icicle.
For nearly two months after the fire, Puget Sound Energy — whose power line sparked the first flames after a tree fell against it in a windstorm — continued to charge Herde for electricity to a home that no longer existed, yet did not restore power to the borrowed camping trailer he parked on his decimated property.
Puget Sound Energy has not otherwise been held responsible for the damage the 244th Command fire caused to Herde and his neighbors. And under Washington law, it is unlikely to be.
The state’s law and regulations are mostly silent about utility companies’ duty to prevent wildfire. Its regulators aren’t required to inspect power lines for fire risk, and have no power to impose fines if there are hazards. Utility companies don’t even have to report fires caused by their lines unless they cause serious injury or death.
When utilities spark wildfires in Washington, they can ‘burn down your house and get away with it’ | The Seattle TimesWhen utilities spark wildfires in Washington, they can ‘burn down your house and get away with it’ | The Seattle Times