BREAKING NEWS: Cal Fire confirms PG&E transmission lines caused the deadly 2018 Camp Fire

Cal Fire confirms PG&E transmission lines caused the deadly 2018 Camp Fire
Photo Credit: Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Butte County, California – The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Wednesday that it had determined, after a “very meticulous and thorough investigation,” the Camp Fire was caused by “electric transmission lines owned and operated by PG&E.” PG&E said in February that the fire was likely caused by its equipment. 

The Camp Fire which started on November 8, 2018, killed 85 people, burned 153,336 acres, and destroyed nearly 19,000 homes, businesses, and other buildings.  

In January, PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection, saying it was facing an estimated $30 billion in wildfire liabilities. The company estimated that it would have $10.5 billion in liabilities for damage caused by the Camp Fire in a recent filing to state regulators. 

State officials said the fire began near Pulga in Butte County, about 95 miles north of Sacramento, and quickly spread, destroying Paradise City. Cal Fire said it had sent its report to the district attorney’s office in Butte County. 

PG&E said in an earlier filing that a criminal investigation into the Camp Fire had been opened by the Butte County District Attorney and California Attorney General. 

In a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission in December, PG&E officials said an employee “observed fire in the vicinity” of one of the company’s towers and workers called 911 on the morning of November 8, 2018, the day the wildfire ignited. 

  • Later inspections at the same tower found a broken C-hook and a “flash mark,” suggesting a power line broke free and made contact with the tower.  
  • In a separate location near Flea Mountain on November 9, 2018, a PG&E employee found a pole and other equipment on the ground with bullets and bullet holes.  
  • On November 12, 2018, a worker found wires down and a damaged and downed pole on Concow and Rim road. 

PG&E, the state’s largest electricity utility, said in a filing to state regulators the fire seemed to have started near a tower on its Caribou-Palermo transmission line. The company said its crews noticed damage at the tower, which was almost a century old and about 25 years past its useful life. 

Critics of the company say that the utility could easily have obtained approval from state regulators to replace the tower and recover the costs from ratepayers. 

Catherine Sandoval, a former California regulator who has been pushing for improved maintenance of electrical poles and towers said “Some people run equipment to failure, they believe running equipment to failure to save money. This is the danger of run to failure.” 

The Camp Fire highlighted the growing threat to California posed by wildfires as climate change has intensified droughts and heat waves. In April, the governor of the state, Gavin Newsom, outlined a plan for reducing the risk of wildfires and finding new ways to shoulder the huge fire costs. 

Mr. Newsom criticized PG&E on Wednesday for how it has handled its bankruptcy case, saying in a court filing that the utility “did not show that it understands the seriousness and urgency of the situation.” 

The filing came ahead of a hearing on May 22, 2019, in which the court will consider a six-month request from PG&E to submit its reorganization plan. The company had “not earned the privilege” of such a long delay, the governor’s office argued, as it had failed to rectify “two decades of mismanagement, misconduct, and failure to enhance a woeful culture of safety.” 

Since PG&E recently appointed a new chief executive and added 11 new directors to its board.  Mr. Newsom suggested that the court extend the deadline to mid-August. 

Camp Fire Attorneys in Butte County

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