Cal Fire Investigators: PG&E power lines caused the deadly Camp Fire in California

The 2018 Camp Fire is the deadliest fire in California history with a death toll of 85 plus nearly 19,000 homes and businesses destroyed. It has been suspected for months that the fire was started by a high voltage line that shorted out moments before the fire was first spotted. Today Cal Fire investigators made it official in a news release:

CAL FIRE investigators were immediately dispatched to the Camp Fire and began working to determine the origin and cause of the fire. 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.

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

The investigation identified a second ignition sight near the intersection of Concow Rd. and Rim Rd. The cause of the second fire was determined to be vegetation into electrical distribution lines owned and operated by PG&E. This fire was consumed by the original fire which started earlier near Pulga.

PG&E had reportedly considered cutting power in the area because of the high winds and dangerous conditions but chose not to do so. PG&E admitted in the days after the fire started that it had experienced a problem in the area where the fire was first seen. A number of lawsuits have been filed and the company said it expected the liability from the Camp Fire, plus other fires it was found to be responsible for in 2017, would total at least $30 billion.

In January PG&E announced it would be filing for bankruptcy protection. The company was supposed to present its reorganization plan by the end of May, however, it recently asked for a six-month extension. California Governor Gavin Newsom came out against that today. From the Sacramento Bee:

PG&E’s extension request “reflects no sense of urgency in addressing the serious problems and issues confronting” the company, Newsom’s office writes in a brief it plans to file Wednesday. The Newsom administration also notes that the extension would span the 2019 fire season, when the company should be working to ensure its equipment does not spark new fires.

“All should be mindful of PG&E’s history of over two decades of mismanagement, misconduct and failed efforts to improve a woeful safety culture,” Newsom’s office writes. “We should not forget that PG&E entered these Chapter 11 Cases as a convicted felon, with five different felony convictions for safety violations and one conviction for obstruction of justice.”

At the risk of sounding cynical, today is definitely a good day for Gov. Newsom to talk tough about PG&E. No doubt he’s aware of that.

If you’re interested in seeing where the fire began, you can see the location in this KCRA 3 report from last December: