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5 Jan, 2022 22:30

Culprit behind enormous California fire named

Utility company fingered over second-largest fire in state’s history
Culprit behind enormous California fire named

The Dixie Fire, which raged for over three months last year, wiping out 1,300 structures, began when state utility PG&E’s electrical distribution lines sparked after contact with a tree, the state fire agency has confirmed.

Cal Fire’s investigation, completed on Tuesday, confirmed PG&E was responsible for the second-largest fire in California history. In addition to burning 963,309 acres of land, the blaze torched a total of 1,329 buildings, damaged 95 more, and all but leveled the town of Greenville, a historic community dating from the Gold Rush. A US Forest Service firefighter died while assigned to the blaze. The fire began when PG&E electrical distribution lines west of Cresta Dam came in contact with a tree, according to the report. 

The agency’s findings confirmed facts that PG&E already knew, as the state utility was aware of the details surrounding its role in starting the fire nearly a week before letting the public and state regulators in on the matter. The same day the flames erupted, an internal PG&E outage report included incriminating phrases like “tree in the line,” “grass fire,” and “fuses blown,” none of which would become public knowledge until the deadly inferno had been burning for a week. State utilities are required to report such incidents to state regulators within two to four hours; when asked, PG&E acknowledged it waited five days. 

PG&E was also found responsible for the largest fire in California history, 2018’s Camp Fire, which all but destroyed the town of Paradise, killed 85 people, and wiped out 18,800 structures. The utility company pleaded guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawfully causing a fire after it was taken to court by Butte County and subsequently filed for bankruptcy in 2019.

Its problems didn’t stop there – some California residents have argued that matters have only gotten worse as PG&E began implementing “preemptive” power-cuts during hot and dry conditions, supposedly to prevent another killer spark, but its power lines have continued to trigger wildfires unabated. PG&E currently faces a charge of manslaughter for its alleged role in the Zogg Fire, which killed four people in September 2020, and has been blamed for the Bader Fire, a smaller event which took place the same month as the Dixie Fire.

US District Court Judge William Alsup, who has been responsible for enforcing the legal penalties leveled against PG&E, has called the utility a “terror: T-E-R-R-O-R to the people of the state of California.” He questioned why a worker for the utility did not shut off power to the area while investigating the incident that ultimately became the Dixie Fire, and hundreds of Californians who lost property in the blaze have since filed suit against the utility.

PG&E power lines have been blamed for over 130 deaths in various fires in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. After admitting to its part in the Dixie Fire, PG&E pledged to bury 10,000 miles of power lines, though it’s unclear how they would afford such a massive construction project or whether it would even be possible, given that the power lines responsible for both the Dixie and Camp Fires were located in a rocky canyon.