The state firefighting agency said Friday that downed PG&E power lines caused 12 Northern California wildfires in October, including the major Sonoma Valley blaze.
The cause of the deadly Tubbs fire, which ravaged Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood, is still under investigation.
According to Cal Fire, more than 170 fires broke out across Northern California in early October, charring more than 245,000 acres, destroying thousands of homes and killing 44 people.
Cal Fire determined the Nuns Fire that ravaged Glen Ellen and the surrounding area was caused by a broken top of a tree coming in contact with a power line.
Eleven other fires were caused by electric power and distribution lines, conductors and failure of power poles, according to Cal Fire.
The agency’s finding could open PG&E up criminal charges. Its reports have been referred to the county District Attorney’s offices for review in eight of the 12 fires – Sulphur, Blue, Norrbom, Partrick, Pythian, Adobe, Pocket and Atlas – due to evidence of alleged violations of state law.
The wine country fires caused $9.4 billion in property damage. PG&E has so far denied any responsibility. “Based on the information we have so far, we continue to believe our overall programs met our state’s high standards (for fire safety),” the company said in a prepared statement.
“It’s disappointing and deeply concerning that alleged violations of state law led to devastating fires across my district,” Senator Dodd said. “I’m calling on PG&E, utilities across the state and the Public Utilities Commission to step up and ensure they are meeting their legal obligations to maintain power lines in a safe manner.”
“It’s inexcusable and it can’t be allowed to happen again,” said Dodd, who has proposed new legal standards and oversight for utilities. Dodd’s Senate bills 901 and 1088 have been approved in the Senate and are pending before Assembly committees.
The Norrbom, Adobe, Partrick, Pythian and Nuns fires were part of a series of fires that merged in Sonoma and Napa counties. These fires started in the late-night hours of Oct. 8 during a major wind storm. The fire complex burned a combined total of 56,556 acres, destroying 1,355 structures. There were three civilian fatalities.
The Atlas Fire, in Napa County, started the evening of Oct. 8 and burned a total of 51,624 acres, destroying 783 structures. There were six civilian fatalities. Investigators determined the fire started in places. At one location, a large limb broke from a tree and came into contact with a PG&E power line. At the second location, investigators determined a tree fell into the same line.
– Photo by William Murray