Someone Else’s Wires May Have Started California Wildfires, PG&E Says

November 20, 2017

The deadliest of last month’s wildfires in California’s wine country may have been started by electrical equipment not owned or installed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the utility said in a court filing earlier this month.

PG&E said in a legal filing that a preliminary investigation suggests that a private power line may have started the blaze that killed 21 people and destroyed more than 4,400 homes in Sonoma County. Another 22 people were killed and at least 4,500 more structures were destroyed in Northern California wildfires that began Oct. 8.

Although the cause of the fire that decimated a Santa Rosa neighborhood has not been determined, “preliminary investigations suggest that this fire might have been caused by electrical equipment that was owned, installed and maintained by a third party,” PG&E attorneys wrote in the filing with the Judicial Council of California, the policymaking body of California courts.

PG&E did not name the third party but referenced a location in neighboring Napa County where CalFire investigators have zeroed in as they try to determine the cause of the blaze.

Lynn Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said she couldn’t comment on the filing due to the ongoing investigation.

The filing comes in response to 15 wildfire-related lawsuits against PG&E. It gives no supporting evidence other than referring to an electric incident report that the utility submitted to state regulators on Nov. 2 where it documented 10 cases in Sonoma and Napa counties of toppled trees, downed lines and other damaged equipment. The report does not say whether those incidents may have caused or contributed to the fires.

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