Quantcast

Investigation Finds Southern California Edison Power Lines Sparked Massive, Deadly Thomas Fire

Climate
The Thomas fire burns on Sulfer Mountain in Southern California behind a row of citrus trees on Dec. 5, 2017. Bill Boch / Getty Images

Another California utility has been found responsible for sparking a deadly wildfire, according to the results of an investigation announced Wednesday.

The massive Thomas Fire, which burned through 281,893 acres of Southern California in 2017, was sparked when two Southern California Edison (SCE) power lines slapped together on the night of Dec. 4, 2017, the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) said.


"A high wind event caused the power lines to come into contact with each other, creating an electrical arc," the fire department said in a statement reported by The Los Angeles Times. "The electrical arc deposited hot, burning or molten material onto the ground, in a receptive fuel bed, causing the fire."

The findings come a month after Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), California's largest utility, said its equipment would likely be identified as the cause of 2018's Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. The utility filed for bankruptcy to protect itself from billions of dollars in liability; in addition to likely igniting the Camp Fire, the utility was found responsible for at least 18 of 21 significant California wildfires in 2017.

SCE is protected from bankruptcy because of a 2018 law that passes liability on to customers. The utility could owe $1.3 billion in insurance claims from direct victims of the fire, as well as $400 million in claims from victims of a massive mudslide near Montecito in January 2018 that was caused when heavy rains struck a hillside stripped of vegetation by the flames. At least 21 people were killed.

SCE released a statement in response to the investigation, arguing that the Thomas fire had been started by two separate blazes, and that the utility had evidence it was not responsible for one of them. It said evidence showed a fire in Anlauf Canyon started at least 12 minutes before any problems with its equipment and at least 15 minutes before the start time reported by the fire department.

"SCE provided this evidence to CAL FIRE and VCFD investigators; however, the report does not suggest this evidence was considered. SCE believes the Anlauf Canyon ignition may have been independently responsible for a significant portion of the Thomas Fire damages," the utility wrote.

Ventura County Fire Captain Stan Ziegler told NBC News that the evidence mentioned by SCE was shared with the investigators.

"The evidence was considered, but it did not change the result or outcome of the investigation," Ziegler said.

The Thomas fire was the largest fire in California's history until it was outdone by the Mendocino Complex Fire in 2018, according to BuzzFeed News. It destroyed 1,063 structures and burned for 40 days.

While power lines are often the initial spark of individual wildfires, climate change makes the hot, dry conditions that encourage large fires more widespread.


EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Record flood water levels in Venice hit again on Sunday making this the worst week of flooding in the city in over 50 years.

Read More Show Less

By Brian Barth

Late fall, after the last crops have been harvested, is a time to rest and reflect on the successes and challenges of the gardening year. But for those whose need to putter around in the garden doesn't end when cold weather comes, there's surely a few lingering chores. Get them done now and you'll be ahead of the game in spring.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
(L) Selma Three Stone Engagement Ring. (R) The Greener Diamond Farm Project. MiaDonna

By Bailey Hopp

If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.

Read More Show Less
(L) 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped, measles virus particle that is studded with glycoprotein tubercles.
(R) The measles virus pictured under a microscope. PHIL / CDC

The Pacific Island nation of Samoa declared a state of emergency this week, closed all of its schools and limited the number of public gatherings allowed after a measles outbreak has swept across the country of just 200,000 people, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less
Austin Nuñez is Chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, which joined with the Hopi and Pascua Yaqui Tribes to fight a proposed open-pit copper mine on sacred sites in Arizona. Mamta Popat

By Alison Cagle

Rising above the Arizona desert, the Santa Rita Mountains cradle 10,000 years of Indigenous history. The Tohono O'odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe, among numerous other tribes, have worshipped, foraged, hunted and laid their ancestors to rest in the mountains for generations.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The Navajo Nation has suffered from limited freshwater resources as a result of climate, insufficient infrastructure, and contamination. They collaborated with NASA to develop the Drought Severity Evaluation Tool. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Native Americans are disproportionately without access to clean water, according to a new report, "Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan," to be released this afternoon, which shows that more than two million Americans do not have access to access to running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater services.

Read More Show Less
Wild Exmoor ponies graze on a meadow in the Czech Republic. rapier / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Nanticha Ocharoenchai

In the Czech Republic, horses have become the knights in shining armor. A study published in the Journal for Nature Conservation suggests that returning feral horses to grasslands in Podyjí National Park could help boost the numbers of several threatened butterfly species.

Read More Show Less

Despite huge strides in improving the lives of children since 1989, many of the world's poorest are being left behind, the United Nations children's fund UNICEF warned Monday.

Read More Show Less