PG&E Caused Massive 2018 Fire

California’s Pacific Gas and Electric power company is responsible for the devastating 2018 Camp Fire — a blaze that killed 85 people and destroyed thousands of structures — according to investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. CAL Fire said in a news release on Wednesday that electrical lines owned and operated by PG&E started the fire early November 8.

“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” through parts of California, CAL Fire said. Also, the San Francisco-based company added it has not been able to review Cal Fire’s report and “not been able to form a conclusion as to whether a second fire ignited as a result of vegetation contact with PG&E electrical distribution lines, as Cal Fire also determined.”

PG&E, the state’s largest electric utility, filed for bankruptcy protection in late January after being hit with a flood of lawsuits from devastating wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018, including the Camp Fire in Butte County. Lawsuits from Camp Fire survivors could take years to resolve, and PG&E could potentially face criminal charges in connection with the 2018 blaze, including murder or involuntary manslaughter. Cal Fire said its investigative report was forwarded to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.

“The act by Cal Fire of forwarding its report is strictly symbolic,” Ramsey’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “The fact the Camp Fire was started by a malfunction of equipment on a Pacific Gas & Electric Company transmission line has been known for months by investigators and had been, essentially, admitted by Pacific Gas & Electric in an early December 2018 report to the California Public Utility Commission.”

Added the District Attorney’s office, “The investigation into how and why the PG&E transmission line equipment failed is ongoing in an effort to determine if PG&E or any of its personnel have any criminal liability. There will be no further comments on the status of the investigation, which is expected to last from weeks to months.” The 2018 blaze destroyed about 90% of the town of Paradise, which once had a population of nearly 27,000 residents. Survivors of the disaster have since been relocated to nearby communities, including Chico, Redding and Oroville.

Todd “Bubba” Horwitz