O&M, Policy & Regulation

Two Camp Fire ignitions involved PG&E equipment, state probe says

Pacific Gas & Electric transmission lines certainly caused the devastating Camp Fire in northern California last year, according to the latest findings by the state’s fire investigators released this week.

A downed line, coupled with dry vegetation and extremely high winds, fueled the fire that killed at least 85 people and laid waste to more than 150,000 acres and 15,000 structures. PG&E, which previously had acknowledged that its equipment might have caused some part of the blaze, released a statement expressing sympathy for victims and vowing vigilance on safety in the future.

The findings announced by California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) alleged that two ignitions were caused by PG&E equipment. The San Francisco-based utility has only acknowledged one such cause but didn’t deny its possible role in the second.

“I have made the assumption when I got here that PG&E equipment caused the fire,” said the utility’s new CEO, Bill Johnson, during a hearing before the state Assembly this week. “It’s a disappointment that this happened. Let’s not do it again.”

PG&E declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year, its second such filing in the past two decades. The utility reported more than $11 billion in expected liabilities from the fire.

In a statement following CAL FIRE’s findings, PG&E said it accepted its role in the ignition near Pulga but was still investigating the second alleged incident. First up, though, it vowed to help victims and thanked emergency personnel.

“Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much, and we remain focused on supporting them through the recovery and rebuilding process,” the PG&E statement read. “We also want to thank the brave first responders who worked tirelessly to save lives, contain the Camp Fire and protect citizens and communities.”

PG&E detailed renewed safety vigilance in its statement. The utility recently added a new role for an independent safety advisor, hiring former NTSB chairman Christopher Hart.