It’s been 8 1/2 years since deadly wildfires raged through parts of San Diego County.But the fight over paying the costs of the Witch Creek and Harris fires that killed two and destroyed more than 1,700 buildings and 239 vehicles is far from over.At a pre-hearing conference in San Francisco Monday morning the likelihood was raised of a legal battle between San Diego Gas & Electric and consumer groups lasting until the middle of 2018.”We think that is way too long,” said Christopher Lyons, attorney for SDG&E. “That’s three years since we filed our case.”The company wants state regulators to allow the investor-owned utility monopoly to bill its customers $379 million for costs left over from the October 2007 wildfires.But seven consumer groups and attorneys say it’s unfair that ratepayers have to pay an estimated $1.67 a month more, on average, on their utility bills over a six-year period if the California Public Utilities Commission OKs the plan. They have challenged SDG&E’s request.Administrative law judge Jeanne McKinney presided over Monday’s conference that lasted nearly two hours and covered procedural issues concerning SDG&E’s application and attempts by opponents to have it thrown out.McKinney acknowledged the potential of a resolution not being reached by June 2018 due to hearing schedules, gathering evidence and delays McKinney said are due in part to state budget cuts.”That’s just the reality,” McKinney said during the teleconference. “We have a very limited amount of resources at this time.”But Tom Long, legal director for The Utility Reform Network, said the issue could be resolved as early as this year if the CPUC throws out SDG&E’s request”There are a couple of points in this case where it can be resolved in the favor of ratepayers early on and we don’t get anywhere near 2018,” Long said after the hearing.McKinney ruled protesters can start gathering evidence against SDG&E and question whether the utility acted reasonably during the 2007 disaster.”That’s the most important thing that happened today,” said Michael Aguirre, attorney for SDG&E customer Ruth Hendricks.McKinney did not give any indication whether she will allow public participation hearings in San Diego about the proposal before CPUC commissioners, something that was attended by an estimated 800 people in the aftermath of the 2007 fires.”I anticipate twice or three times as many people” attending a new round of public hearings, Don Kelly, executive director of the Utility Consumers’ Action Network told McKinney.”I’m still not sold that we’ll get input from the public that’s relevant to what we’re discussing here,” McKinney said.More than 2,500 lawsuits against SDG&E have been settled and in documents filed to the CPUC the company says there were factors “beyond SDG&E’s control that led to the ignition of and damage caused by those fires.”Last September, the company asked for authority to essentially come up with a 90-10 split modeled after an earlier state decision on a hazardous waste cleanup effort.Stockholders in SDG&E would pay $42 million, or 10 percent, of legal settlement costs not covered by insurance or counterclaims against other businesses implicated in the start of the fires. The remaining $379 million would be picked up by customers.