Power lines sparked deadly California wildfires

Monday, June 11, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Power lines owned by San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. are to blame for a dozen wildfires in Northern California's wine country last fall, including two that killed 15 people combined, the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Friday.

Investigators determined the fires — part of a series that were the deadliest in California history — were caused by PG&E-owned equipment.

All of the blazes that raged through California last October 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.

In eight of the 12 fires included in Friday's report, Cal Fire said there was evidence of violations of state law and that its findings have been forwarded to county prosecutors.

Hundreds of homeowners and relatives of those killed have sued PG&E.

"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.

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.

PG&E said in a statement that the company believes its "overall programs met our state's high standards" for maintaining electrical equipment and pruning about 1.4 million trees a year. But because of California's much longer wildfire season and extreme weather, PG&E said it has made changes including creating a wildfire operations center to monitor extreme weather and fire threats in real time, putting in place a network of weather stations throughout high-risk fire areas and boosting vegetation management.

In March, the company 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.