Pacific Gas & Electric power lines caused California's 'deadliest and most destructive wildfire'

Sergio Conner
May 16, 2019

The fire originated near Pulga in Northern California on the morning of November 8 by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric, according to a press release from Cal Fire.

"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, rapidly burning into Pulga to the east and west into Concow, Paradise, Magalia and the outskirts of east Chico", Cal Fire said in a news release.

The state fire protection agency Cal Fire has made it official, after concluding what it called "a very meticulous and thorough investigation".

A Cal Fire spokeswoman said the investigators' report had been furnished to the Butte County District Attorney's Office for further review. Bill Johnson told the state Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee he had expected the utility would be blamed for the fire. He called the release of the report symbolic because it has been long known that PG&E's equipment caused the fire.

Cal Fire concluded last June that PG&E-owned power lines had sparked a separate series of wildfires that swept Northern California's wine country in 2017, and found a number of unspecified code violations alleged in several of the blazes it examined.

This finding is not a surprise.

The city of Paradise - population 27,000 - was almost wiped out as residents evacuated and their homes and vehicles were engulfed in flames. It also completely destroyed the town of Paradise, burned a total of 153,336 acres, and destroyed 18,804 structures.

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Paradise sued PG&E in January seeking damages for the loss of infrastructure, land, property, trees, public and natural resources, and lost taxpayer resources.

The fire started in the early morning hours near the community of Pulga in Butte County.

The company was supposed to present its reorganization plan by the end of May, however, it recently asked for a six-month extension.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Wednesday filing that the extension should not be granted.

The investigation also identified a second nearby ignition site involving vegetation and electrical distribution lines, also owned and operated by the San Francisco-based utility.

PG&E had already admitted it was likely to blame, and filed for protective bankruptcy in January to shield itself against billions of dollars in fire-related liability lawsuits.

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