PG&E caused the Camp Fire, investigators rule

PG&E

Cal Fire announced Wednesday that its investigators determined PG&E power lines caused the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive blaze in state history. 

The Camp Fire killed 85 people in Northern California and destroyed much of the town of Paradise. The blaze burned 153,336 acres and destroyed 18,804 structures.

In its announcement, Cal Fire stated electrical transmission lines owned and operated by PG&E in the Pulga area of Butte County caused the blaze. But, Cal Fire also said there was a second ignition point, for which investigators likewise found PG&E responsible.

Early in the morning on Nov. 8, 2018, the Camp Fire ignited near Pulga. The tinder-dry vegetation coupled with strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures caused the blaze to spread rapidly, sweeping east into Pulga and west into Concow, Paradise, Magalia and the outskirts of east Chico, according to Cal Fire.

Investigators determined there was a second ignition site between Concow and Pulga near the intersection of Concow and Rim roads. The second ignition was caused by vegetation coming in contact with electrical distribution lines owned and operated by PG&E, Cal Fire said in a news release. The initial fire consumed the second blaze, investigators determined. 

PG&E responded with a statement saying the company accepts Cal Fire’s ruling that its power lines near Pulga caused the Camp Fire, though the utility is unsure about there having been a second ignition point. Faced with billions of dollars in liabilities for involvement in California wildfires, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year, and prior to Wednesday’s announcement, the utility had already acknowledged its equipment probably caused the Camp Fire.

“Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much, and we remain focused on supporting them through the recovery and rebuilding process,” PG&E said in a statement released Wednesday. “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.”

The utility says it is unable to conclude whether a second fire ignited as a result of vegetation coming in contact with its power lines. PG&E says it is fully cooperating with all ongoing investigations related to the Camp Fire.

After making it’s determination, Cal Fire forwarded the report produced by Camp Fire investigators to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.  

Ramsey, in turn, said his office, as well as the California Attorney General’s office, are investigating the Camp Fire. The Cal Fire report will remain confidential until prosecutors decide whether or not to file charges, Ramsey said. 

Late last year, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed an amicus brief in federal court stating PG&E could face a host of charges, including murder, if the utility is found to have caused deadly wildfires.

Amid its bankruptcy process, PG&E is implementing a Community Wildfire Safety Program that the company say includes real-time monitoring; enhanced vegetation management practices; re-inspections of electrical infrastructure in high fire-threat areas; building a more resilient electric system; and proactively shutting off power due to extreme conditions. Starting this fire season, customers in high-risk areas could experience intentional blackouts as a result of PG&E’s plan to proactively shut off power.

PG&E’s share price dropped slightly Wednesday, closing at $18.06. The company’s stock had recovered to more than $20 recently after plummeting from nearly $50 to below $18 last November and then falling below $10 in January. 

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