California fire officials have determined that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), one of the state’s largest utilities, is responsible for the deadliest fire in a century.
The Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and burned nearly 15,000 homes, was sparked by PG&E power lines, according to a report issued by Cal Fire official speaking with the press. The report has not been released publicly, but has been sent to the Butte County district attorney’s office.
The district attorney may bring criminal charges against the facility, and Cal Fire Deputy Chief Mike Mohler told reporters that “Investigators determined there were violations.” According to the San Francisco Chroniclecharges may include “negligence causing fire or murder.”
The report said PG&E power lines came into contact with vegetation in two places in early November, sparking two separate fires outside Paradise, California. “The second fire was quickly consumed by the initial fire,” notes the Associated Press.
PG&E is currently in the midst of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, prompted by heavy penalties related to several large fires that broke out at its facility. The results of the Camp Fire investigation are not a total surprise for PG&E: in February, the utility told investors that “the company believes that it is possible that its facility will be determined to be the fire site of the 2018 Camp Fire.” ” PG&E has said it expects liability from wildfires in 2017 and 2018 to exceed $30 billion.
In earlier reports, PG&E revealed that the 115 kilovolt (kV) Caribou-Palermo transmission line, which crosses high and difficult-to-access terrain in Northern California, went down about 15 minutes before a PG&E employee noticed a fire near one in the lines. the tower PG&E was expected to make several upgrades to the line, but they had been complaining about them for years before the fire started.
The Associated Press noted that investigators found PG&E responsible for causing 18 major fires in 2017. Twelve of those cases were cited “for possible criminal prosecution.”
As California enters another wildfire season, PG&E has said it will shut down the power in earnest to residents if the wind becomes dangerous. “PG&E said it could knock out power to about an eighth of the state’s population for five days when dangerously high winds arise,” The Wall Street Journal noted in April. “Areas that could be closed PG&E worries will put people at risk, especially the sick and elderly, and cause financial losses with little hope of compensation.”