Investigators Confirm PG&E Caused Deadliest Calif. Fire

Transmission lines sparked Camp fire
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 16, 2019 1:43 AM CDT
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In this Nov. 9, 2018 photo, Pacific Gas & Electric crews work to restore power lines in Paradise, Calif.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
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(Newser) – Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. power lines sparked a northern California blaze that killed 85 people last year, making it the deadliest US wildfire in a century and the deadliest in state history, state fire officials said Wednesday. Cal Fire said transmission lines owned and operated by the San Francisco-based utility started the Nov. 8 fire that nearly destroyed the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the AP reports. The fire wiped out nearly 15,000 homes. Many of those killed were elderly or disabled. The oldest was 99. "Investigators determined there were violations of law," Cal Fire deputy director Mike Mohler said. He said he hadn't read the report and didn't know the nature of the violations.

The investigation also identified a second nearby ignition site involving PG&E's electrical distribution lines that had come into contact with vegetation. The second fire was quickly consumed by the initial fire. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said in a statement that he is still weighing possible criminal charges against the utility, a decision that could take months. The utility, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January, said in February it was "probable" that one of its transmission lines sparked the blaze. Attorney Mike Danko, who represents 2,000 victims of the fire, said he was encouraged by the fact that Cal Fire sent its latest report to the district attorney, which could mean it has evidence that the utility was negligent on safety issues. PG&E has estimated its total liability from the Paradise fire and 18 wildfires it caused in 2017 could top $30 billion. (Read more California wildfires stories.)

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