CAL FIRE: Camp Fire caused by PG&E transmission lines

In a separate May 15 statement, PG&E said that it accepts CAL FIRE’s determination

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) on May 15 said that it has determined that the Camp Fire in Butte County, Calif. – which, as CAL FIRE noted, started on Nov. 8, 2018, resulting in 85 civilian fatalities, as well as several firefighter injuries, burning 153,336 acres, and destroying 18,804 structures – was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) located in the community of Pulga area.

The fire started in the early morning hours near Pulga, CAL FIRE said, adding that the tinder dry vegetation and Red Flag conditions consisting of strong winds, low humidity, and warm temperatures promoted the fire and caused extreme rates of spread, rapidly burning into Pulga to the east and west into Concow, Paradise, Magalia, as well as the outskirts of east Chico.

The investigation identified a second ignition sight near the intersection of Concow Rd., and Rim Rd., CAL FIRE said, adding that the cause of the second fire was determined to be vegetation into electrical distribution lines owned and operated by PG&E. That fire was consumed by the original fire that began near Pulga, CAL FIRE said.

CAL FIRE Deputy Director Michael Mohler on May 15 told TransmissionHub that the Camp Fire investigative report is not available.

CAL FIRE said in its statement that the report has been forwarded to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.

According to a May 15 statement from the Butte County District Attorney’s office provided to TransmissionHub on May 17, the district attorney and the Office of the Attorney General of California have been actively involved with CAL FIRE in the Camp Fire investigation since last November.

“The act by CAL FIRE of forwarding its report is strictly symbolic,” the statement said. “The fact the Camp Fire was started by a malfunction of equipment on a Pacific Gas and Electric Company transmission line has been known for months by investigators and had been, essentially, admitted by Pacific Gas and Electric Company in an early December 2018 report to the California Public Utility Commission.”

The statement noted that the investigation into how and why the PG&E transmission line equipment failed is ongoing in an effort to determine if the company or any of its personnel have any criminal liability. The statement also noted that there will be no further comments on the status of the investigation, which is expected to last from weeks to months.

The CAL FIRE “report, like all reports in an ongoing criminal investigation, is confidential and not releasable until a final decision is made on whether there will be a filed criminal case,” the statement noted.

In a separate May 15 statement, PG&E noted that CAL FIRE “has determined that PG&E electrical transmission lines near Pulga were a cause of the Camp Fire. PG&E accepts this determination.”

PG&E added: “Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much, and we remain focused on supporting them through the recovery and rebuilding process. We also want to thank the brave first responders who worked tirelessly to save lives, contain the Camp Fire and protect citizens and communities.”

The company continued: “While we have not been able to review CAL FIRE’s report, its determination that PG&E transmission lines near the Pulga area ignited the Camp Fire on the morning of November 8, 2018, is consistent with the company’s previous statements. We have not been able to form a conclusion as to whether a second fire ignited as a result of vegetation contact with PG&E electrical distribution lines, as CAL FIRE also determined. PG&E is fully cooperating with all ongoing investigations concerning the Camp Fire.”

PG&E said that it remains committed to working with state agencies and local communities to make customers and California safer through the company’s comprehensive Community Wildfire Safety Program, which includes real-time monitoring and intelligence; enhanced vegetation management practices; and re-inspections of the company’s critical electric infrastructure in high fire-threat areas.

Article amended at 3:57 p.m., EST, on Friday, May 17, 2019, to add information from the Butte County District Attorney statement.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3235 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.