SAN FRANCISCO -- Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. power lines sparked a Northern California blaze that killed 85 people last year, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, 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 fire wiped out nearly 15,000 homes. Many of those killed were elderly or disabled. The oldest was 99.
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.
Cal Fire did not release its full investigative report, saying it had been forwarded to the Butte County district attorney's office, which is considering criminal charges against the utility.
An attorney representing 2,000 victims of the fire said the handling of the findings indicates the utility may have broken the law.
Lawyer Mike Danko said Cal Fire will normally release its reports publicly if it finds no laws were broken. However, he said, referring the report to prosecutors suggests Cal Fire likely has evidence that the utility was negligent on safety issues.
"We know from our work that PG&E knew its towers in the area were corroded and were at risk of failing," Danko said.
A call seeking comment from Butte County prosecutors was not immediately returned. A PG&E representative did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The utility, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January, said in February it was "probable" that one of its transmission lines sparked the blaze. PG&E has estimated its total liability from the Paradise fire and 2017 wildfires could top $30 billion.
The fire spread rapidly, burning into the communities of Concow and Magalia and the outskirts of Chico. Authorities said it was like no fire they had seen before. Strong wind gusts blew hot embers a mile or more, creating multiple fires.
The utility previously acknowledged that the Caribou-Palermo transmission line lost power right before the fire and was later found to be damaged.
Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said Wednesday she was not surprised to hear Pacific Gas & Electric power lines sparked the blaze that decimated her town and she hopes the findings help the city's legal case against the utility.
"It's nice to have a definite answer," Jones said.
National on 05/16/2019
Print Headline: Officials: PG&E equipment sparked deadly wildfire