Quantcast

PG&E Power Lines Sparked Deadliest Wildfire in California History, Investigation Confirms

Climate
A house burns in Paradise, California during the Camp fire. Ray Chavez / Digital First Media / The Mercury News via Getty Images

Power lines owned by Pacific Gas and Electric were the immediate cause of the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California state history, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) investigation concluded Wednesday, The New York Times reported.


The Camp Fire, which burned 153,336 acres, destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people, was also partly fueled by hot, dry conditions caused by climate change.

"After a very meticulous and thorough investigation, CAL FIRE has determined that the Camp Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity (PG&E) located in the Pulga area," Cal Fire concluded.

The investigation uncovered two ignitions related to PG&E lines: the first near the community of Pulga in Butte county and the second at the intersection of Concow and Rim Roads. The latter was caused by an interaction between vegetation and electrical distribution lines. Cal Fire is passing the results of the investigation along to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.

PG&E said it accepted the results of the investigation in a statement reported by CNBC. The company had already acknowledged in a February regulatory filing that its lines were the "probable" cause of the blaze. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in January after a number of lawsuits stemming from wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018. It could face criminal charges, including murder or involuntary manslaughter.

"Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much, and we remain focused on supporting them through the recovery and rebuilding process," the company said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. "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 had previously said it would increase tree-trimming, maintenance and inspections in response to the heightened threat of wildfires. But survivors of the fire and their lawyers have criticized the company for filing for bankruptcy, according to The New York Times.

"If I caused the fire, I wouldn't be able to file bankruptcy and I wouldn't be able to make other people pay for it," Randi Hall, who lost her Paradise home to the Camp fire and now lives in a recreational vehicle, told The New York Times in an interview last week. "Why does a company that has so many millions of dollars in insurance get to do it?"

Ramsey's office said the forwarding of the most recent investigation was "strictly symbolic," according to a statement reported by CNBC.

"The fact the Camp Fire was started by a malfunction of equipment on a Pacific Gas & Electric Company transmission line has been known for months by investigators and had been, essentially, admitted by Pacific Gas & Electric in an early December 2018 report to the California Public Utility Commission," the statement said. "The investigation into how and why the PG&E transmission line equipment failed is ongoing in an effort to determine if PG&E or any of its personnel have any criminal liability."

In its report, Cal Fire also acknowledged the role of climate conditions in spreading the blaze.

"The tinder dry vegetation and Red Flag conditions consisting of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures promoted this fire and caused extreme rates of spread," the investigation said.

There were more than 7,571 wildfires in California in 2018 that burned more than 1.8 million acres.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Gretchen Goldman

The Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel has released their consensus recommendations to the EPA administrator on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter. The group of 20 independent experts, that were disbanded by Administrator Wheeler last October and reconvened last week, hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, has now made clear that the current particulate pollution standards don't protect public health and welfare.

Read More Show Less
An African elephant is pictured on November 19, 2012, in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP / Getty Images

The unprecedented drought that has caused a water crisis in Zimbabwe has now claimed the life of at least 55 elephants since September, according to a wildlife spokesman, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Maria Dornelas.

By John C. Cannon

Life is reshuffling itself at an unsettling clip across Earth's surface and in its oceans, a new study has found.

Read More Show Less
An Exxon station in Florida remains open despite losing its roof during Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005. Florida Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Shaun Withers

The country's largest fossil fuel company goes on trial today to face charges that it lied to investors about the safety of its assets in the face of the climate crisis and potential legislation to fight it, as the AP reported.

Read More Show Less
El Niño's effect on Antarctica is seen in a tabular iceberg off of Thwaites ice shelf. Jeremy Harbeck / NASA

El Niños are getting stronger due to climate change, according to a new study in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Julia Ries

  • Antibiotic resistance has doubled in the last 20 years.
  • Additionally a new study found one patient developed resistance to a last resort antibiotic in a matter of weeks.
  • Health experts say antibiotic prescriptions should only be given when absolutely necessary in order to avoid growing resistance.

Over the past decade, antibiotic resistance has emerged as one of the greatest public health threats.

Read More Show Less
Pexels


There are hundreds of millions of acres of public land in the U.S., but not everyone has had the chance to hike in a national forest or picnic in a state park.

Read More Show Less
Workers attend to a rooftop solar panel project on May 14, 2017 in Wuhan, China. Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

By Simon Evans

Renewable sources of electricity are set for rapid growth over the next five years, which could see them match the output of the world's coal-fired power stations for the first time ever.

Read More Show Less