Pacific Gas and Electric's power lines caused last year's Camp Fire -- the most deadly and destructive fire in California history -- state fire officials said Wednesday.
The utility's power lines in the high hills of Butte County ignited the wildfire that ultimately killed 85 people, burned 153,336 acres and destroyed 18,804 buildings last November, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a news release.
"Cal Fire investigators were immediately dispatched to the Camp Fire and began
working to determine the origin and cause of the fire," the agency said. "After a very meticulous and thorough investigation, Cal Fire has determined that the Camp Fire was caused by
electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity located in the Pulga area.
Cal Fire forwarded the investigative report to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.
"I don't think it is a surprise for anyone," Paradise Mayor Jody Jones told the Sacramento Bee. "I am hoping this will help in the negotiations with PG&E on the lawsuit."
Multiple residents of the Paradise area have filed civil actions against the utility, which provides gas and electricity to most of Northern California,
In January, PG&E filed for bankruptcy. At the time, its market had plummeted more than $30 billion since 2017.
Its wildfire liabilities raise "substantial doubt" about the company's future, the company said. PG&E has been on criminal probation for a gas explosion in the Bay Area city of San Bruno in 2010.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized PG&E for "mismanagement, misconduct and failed efforts to improve a woeful safety culture" in court papers opposing a six-month extension request by PG&A to present a reorganization plan.
"All should be mindful of PG&E's history of over two decades of mismanagement, misconduct and failed efforts to improve a woeful safety culture," Newsom's office said in a statement obtained by the Sacramento Bee. "We should not forget that PG&E entered these Chapter 11 Cases as a convicted felon, with five different felony convictions for safety violations and one conviction for obstruction of justice."
In February, the company determined its power equipment likely caused the Camp Fire. It isolated the cause to a "C-hook" on a high-voltage transmission tower in a remote spot about 10 miles northeast of Paradise.
On Nov. 8, the fire began in the early hours near the community of Pulga in Butte County.
A combination of tinder dry vegetation and Red Flag conditions of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures strengthened the fire and caused extreme rates of spread, Cal Fire said.
It burned into Pulga to the east and west into Concow, Paradise, Magalia and the outskirts of east Chico.
A second ignition point was identified near an intersection of roads and was consumed by the original fire.
"The cause of the second fire was determined to be vegetation into electrical distribution lines owned and operated by PG&E," Cal Fire said.
The Camp Fire destroyed an estimated 90 percent of the hillside Butte County town of Paradise. Thousands of people were left homeless, including some in nearby Concow and Magalia.
Since the fire, PG&E brought in a new CEO, Bill Johnson, formerly with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
"I have made the assumption when I got here that PG&E equipment caused the fire," Johnson testified Wednesday at an Assembly committee hearing in Sacramento. "It's a disappointment that this happened."
The company plans to inspect tens of thousands of miles of its lines and hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment. It will cost between $600 million and $900 million, including trimming trees around its lines.
"The first thing that I'm going to do is bring an intense focus back to the fundamentals of operating a utility system," Johnson said. "Clear roles. Clear accountability. Clear standards of what good looks like. And I've already seen a number of places where we're not even 'pretty good.'
"We lag the industry in some important performance indicators. To me this is an exercise in returning to the mastery of the fundamentals of the business."
Last year there were 7,571 wildfires that burned more than 1.8 million acres in the state.
"Californians must remain vigilant and be prepared for wildfire," Cal Fire said.
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