Northern California fire storm investigation points to PG&E

10 June 2018 by Steve Blum
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Twelve fires began over two days in October last year, killing 18 people, destroying thousands of homes and other buildings, and burning hundreds of thousands of acres of wild land in Mendocino, Humboldt, Butte, Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties. In every instance, electric power lines were at least partly to blame, and those lines were owned by PG&E, according to a Cal Fire press release and investigation reports. There is “evidence of alleged violations of state law” in eight of the twelve fires. Cal Fire handed the cases over to county district attorneys for possible criminal prosecution.

Cal Fire has only published investigation reports for the four fires that weren’t referred to county DAs, but those tell a consistent story of trees and utility lines whipped by high winds. The account of one investigator at the deadliest fire – the Redwood fire in Mendocino County which killed nine people – tells the story…

[The witness] told me he was in his bathroom preparing for bed when he saw a huge arc towards the east. He said he saw a tree illuminate when the conductors arced. He told me he had lost power 15 minutes prior to witnessing the arc. He said he saw the fire start on the neighbor’s property on the south side of the creek under the conductors. He described the initial size of the fire as a 5-yard burn pile. I asked if he would show me the location of where he saw the fire start. I walked with him towards the southeast corner of his property. He showed me where the conductors were and where he saw them arc. On the southeast corner of his property was a transmission tower with six overhead conductors running north and south…

I asked how fast he thought the wind was blowing when he saw the conductors arc. He said it was well over 45 mph from the northeast. He told me there was a wind event two years ago when the wind reached nearly 100 mph. He didn’t think it was that fast, but did say the wind almost knocked him over while he was walking outside.

You can read all of the reports here.