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

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Emily Deanne

Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.

Read More Show Less
Kokia drynarioides, commonly known as Hawaiian tree cotton, is a critically endangered species of flowering plant that is endemic to the Big Island of Hawaii. David Eickhoff / Wikipedia

By Lorraine Chow

Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Frederick Bass / Getty Images

States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
A couple works in their organic garden. kupicoo / E+ / Getty Images

By Kristin Ohlson

From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A competitor in action during the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships in Uummannaq, Greenland on April 9, 2001. Michael Steele / Allsport / Getty Images

Greenland is open for business, but it's not for sale, Greenland's foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger told Reuters after hearing that President Donald Trump asked his advisers about the feasibility of buying the world's largest island.

Read More Show Less
AFP / Getty Images / S. Platt

Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.

Read More Show Less
Newly established oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Hans Nicholas Jong

Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.

It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."

Read More Show Less