Amid high winds, two Southern California Edison power lines slapped together on a canyon-side cattle ranch on Dec. 4, 2017. And that "line slap" is how the Thomas fire, the second largest wildfire in California’s history, reportedly began. The resulting electrical arc "deposited hot, burning or molten material onto the ground, in a receptive fuel bed," sparking a blaze that would merge with another caused by SCE equipment, the Ventura County Fire Department said Wednesday following a 15-month investigation, per the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. Two people died in the fire, which burned 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties over 40 days.
In a Wednesday statement, SCE questioned the findings and said "final resolution as to cause or responsibility" will have to be decided in court. Though SCE acknowledged it was likely on the hook for the smaller blaze that started in Santa Paula, it says its investigators found evidence its equipment wasn't behind the larger blaze, whose "ignition may have been independently responsible for a significant portion of the Thomas Fire damages." SCE claims investigators failed to consider evidence of a smoke plume forming in Anlauf Canyon 12 minutes before arc flashes were recorded, per the Ventura County Star. At issue: $1.7 billion in insurance claims filed by Thomas fire victims and victims of the subsequent Montecito slides, which occurred Jan. 9, 2018, during heavy rain and have been blamed on the fires' devastation of the vegetation there. (Read more California wildfires stories.)