Sun, Jun 10, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Downed power lines blamed for California fires

AP, SAN FRANCISCO

A dozen wildfires that burned thousands of homes in California’s wine country and killed at least 15 people in October last year were started by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) power lines and utility poles, state fire officials said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on Friday released its investigation for some of the wind-driven fires that ravaged Mendocino, Humboldt, Butte, Sonoma, Lake and Napa counties.

Falling trees and tree limbs hitting power lines were the most common cause, but one fire erupted after PG&E tried to re-energize a downed line, investigators found.

In eight fires there was “evidence of alleged violations of state law” by the utility and those cases have been referred to county prosecutors for review, the department said.

“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.

The 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,” he said.

“As victims, we see the report as an important step toward rebuilding and recovery,” McCallum said.

The dozen blazes were part of the deadliest series of wildfires in California’s history, which killed 44 people, destroyed 8,800 structures and forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate.

About 11,000 firefighters from 17 US states and Australia helped battle the blazes.

Nearly US$1.5 billion was spent fighting fires and on recovery north of San Francisco in October last year, including debris removal and infrastructure repair.

The destruction prompted US$10 billion in insurance claims.

Hundreds of homeowners and relatives of those killed have sued PG&E, which has sought to raise rates to cover possible judgements.

PG&E said in a statement that the company believes its “overall programs met our state’s high standards” for maintaining electrical equipment.

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