Published: Thu, May 16, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

PG&E Equipment Sparked Deadly California Wildfire

PG&E Equipment Sparked Deadly California Wildfire

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. power lines caused a fire that killed 85 people - the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history, California fire officials said Wednesday.

Cal Fire's full report was not released to the public but rather passed on to prosecutors in Butte County, who will decide whether to start legal proceedings over the fire. In total, the blaze burned 153,336 acres and destroyed in excess of 18,000 structures.

During the investigation, authorities located a second ignition site near the intersection of Concow and Rim roads.

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 officials said.

Cars leave Butte County during the Camp Fire.

Power lines rest on cars that were burned by the Camp Fire on November 10, 2018 in Paradise, California.

An investigation into the cause of the fire began nearly immediately, with suspicion soon falling on power equipment operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). (PG&E) caused the state's most destructive wildfire ever - it killed 85 and almost destroyed an entire city.

At an oversight hearing in the state Assembly, PG&E's new CEO Bill Johnson said he's committed to making the company accountable to customers and victims.

"In addition to claims for property damage, business interruption, interest and attorneys' fees, the Utility could be liable for fire suppression costs, evacuation costs, medical expenses, personal injury damages, punitive damages and other damages under other theories of liability, including if the Utility were found to have been negligent", the company said. He said ahead of the 2019 fire season the company is visually inspecting tens of thousands of miles of equipment in high-fire danger areas and clearing vegetation in those areas. The second fire was quickly consumed by the initial fire.

This finding is not a surprise.

Lynsey Paulo, a spokeswoman for PG&E, did not immediately comment.

The utility filed for bankruptcy protection in January, facing lawsuits in the billions of dollars related to wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

PG&E's bankruptcy reorganization plan is due by the end of May, but it has requested an extension until November.

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