US Report: Downed power lines sparked deadly California fires

09:50  09 june  2018
09:50  09 june  2018 Source:   msn.com

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“As the first reports came in Sunday night of numerous fires that would grow into one of the most destructive wildfire disasters in California history, emergency dispatchers in Sonoma County received multiple calls of power lines falling down and electrical transformers exploding.”

The report does not say whether those incidents may have caused or contributed to the fires . Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E .3 million for failing to maintain a power line that sparked a massive blaze in 2015 in Amador County that destroyed 549 homes and

FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2017 file photo, a firefighter carries a water hose to put out a fire burning along the Highway 29 near Calistoga, Calif. Downed power lines caused a dozen Northern California wildfires last fall, including two that killed a total of 15 people, California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Friday, June 8, 2018. The wildfires were part of a series that were the deadliest in California history. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2017 file photo, a firefighter carries a water hose to put out a fire burning along the Highway 29 near Calistoga, Calif. Downed power lines caused a dozen Northern California wildfires last fall, including two that killed a total of 15 people, California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Friday, June 8, 2018. The wildfires were part of a series that were the deadliest in California history. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

SAN FRANCISCO — A dozen wildfires that burned thousands of homes in California's wine country and killed at least 15 people last October were started by Pacific Gas & Electric power lines and utility poles, state fire officials said.

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Utility has reported eight cases in which trees or branches brought down or damaged power lines in areas hit by North Bay blazes. Help KQED investigate the Northern California fires . PG&E's incident reports to the California Public Utilities Commission provide brief accounts of trees toppling in high

The flames may have been sparked by downed power lines and blown transformers, according to emergency radio traffic. Multiple fires were reported by firefighters near the sites of downed power lines and fallen trees.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection released its investigation Friday for some of the wind-driven fires that ravaged Mendocino, Humboldt, Butte, Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties.

Falling trees and tree limbs hitting power lines were the most common cause, but one fire erupted after PG&E tried to re-energize a downed line, investigators found.

In eight fires there was "evidence of alleged violations of state law" by the utility and those cases have been referred to county prosecutors for review, according to the forestry department.

"PG&E has been trying to duck responsibility for the fires, blaming everything from climate change to local fire departments and the state's liability laws," Patrick McCallum, co-chair of a coalition of people affected by the wildfires, said in a statement.

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Investigators have determined that power lines buffeted by heavy winds ignited at least two small fires the night of Oct. 8, 2017, in Northern California neighborhoods. The Press Democrat reported Saturday, Feb.

When the first reports of multiple fires in California ’s Sonoma County poured in Sunday night, emergency dispatchers were at the same time sending out fire crews to investigate downed PG&E power lines and exploding electrical transformers in the area, the East Bay Times reports .

He said Cal Fire's report "puts the blame where it belongs — squarely on PG&E, confirming it was responsible for many of the fires that devastated so many lives."

"As victims, we see the report as an important step toward rebuilding and recovery," McCallum said.

The dozen blazes were part of the deadliest series of wildfires in California history, which killed 44 people, destroyed 8,800 structures and forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate. About 11,000 firefighters from 17 states and Australia helped battle the blazes.

Nearly $1.5 billion was spent fighting fires and on recovery north of San Francisco in October, including debris removal and infrastructure repair

The destruction prompted $10 billion in insurance claims.

Hundreds of homeowners and relatives of those killed have sued PG&E, which has sought to raise rates to cover possible judgments.

PG&E said in a statement that the company believes its "overall programs met our state's high standards" for maintaining electrical equipment. The utility said it inspects its 2 million power poles regularly and prunes about 1.4 million trees a year.

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(AP) — Power lines buffeted by heavy winds ignited at least two small fires the night of Oct. In both cases — a fire that destroyed two homes and another that damaged an outbuilding — investigators ruled that winds caused PG&E power lines to throw sparks .

What's happening here is that high winds are knocking down power lines . These send out sparks , starting little fires . We're looking at the fires that swept through Northern California 's wine country last fall. In all, 44 people lost their lives in the deadliest fires in state history.

But "years of drought, extreme heat and 129 million dead trees have created a 'new normal' for our state" that has increased the number of large wildfires and the length of the wildfire season, the utility said.

"Climate change and the so-called new normal do not ignite fires. The Cal Fire findings today show that suspected negligence by PG&E did," said state Sen. Jerry Hill, a Redwood City Democrat, a longtime critic of the utility.

In March, PG&E announced it would start switching off power to minimize sparks in vulnerable areas during times of extreme fire danger. PG&E and some other state utilities previously have resisted such a measure, arguing that cutting off power carries its own risks, including to patients dependent on electrical equipment.

In one fire in Mendocino County last fall, investigators said Potter Valley experienced wind speeds up to 67 mph, causing many tree branches to fall, triggering numerous 911 calls reporting fires, according to Cal Fire's report.

"An arc from a conductor was witnessed along with the start of a vegetation fire," the report said. A second fire also was "from an overhead conductor." The two sparked a third, merged, and burned 10 miles (16 kilometers), the report said.

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A carelessly discarded cigarette, a downed power line , a car's backfire, or a chainsaw's pull could have started any of the wildfires tearing across California . "Every spark is going to ignite a fire ," said Ken Pimlott, the state's top firefighter .

(AP) — Power lines buffeted by heavy winds ignited at least two small fires the night of Oct. 8 in Northern California neighborhoods reports into what caused some of the dozens of blazes that erupted that night and became the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in California history, the

A responding firefighter said the smoke was blowing sideways and he had to veer around numerous tree branches to get to the fire.

Another property owner told Fire Captain Specialist Eric Bettger that "he saw a flash to the east and saw the conductors come down.

"He said the fire crossed the road within seconds," Bettger said.

Sen. Bill Dodd, a Democrat who represents the Napa area, called the report's findings "disappointing and deeply concerning." He has introduced legislation that would require electric utilities to update wildfire plans to determine when they need to cut power to lines during harsh weather and boost infrastructure.

Cal Fire investigators are still probing other fires in October and December, including the deadliest blaze in Napa and Sonoma Counties, which PG&E has argued was started by wires belonging to a private homeowner.

___

Associated Press writer Amanda Lee Myers contributed to this report from Los Angeles and Thompson contributed from Sacramento.

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