Downed power lines caused a dozen Northern California wildfires last fall, including two that killed a total of 15 people, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Friday. It was the deadliest series of fires in California history.
The agency said in a report that investigators determined the fires “were caused by electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles.”
All involved equipment owned by San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric. A message left with PG&E was not immediately returned Friday afternoon.
The fires were part of a series of blazes that raged through wind-whipped California last October that killed 44 people, destroyed 8,800 structures and forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate. About 11,000 firefighters from 17 states and Australia helped battle the blazes.
The deadly fires in Friday’s report burned in Mendocino and Napa counties.
In the Mendocino blaze, investigators said Potter Valley experienced wind speeds up to 67 mph, causing many tree branches to fall, triggering numerous 911 calls reporting fires.
“An arc from a conductor was witnessed along with the start of a vegetation fire,” the report said. A second fire also was “from an overhead conductor.” The two sparked a third, merged, and burned 10 miles, the report said.
A responding firefighter said in the report that the smoke was blowing sideways and he had to veer around numerous tree branches in the road to get to the fire area.
CalFire investigators are still probing other fires in October and December.
PG&E provided the following statement to FOX40:
“The loss of life, homes and businesses in these extraordinary wildfires is simply heartbreaking, and we remain focused on helping communities recover and rebuild. We look forward to the opportunity to carefully review the CAL FIRE reports to understand the agency’s perspectives. Based on the information we have so far, we continue to believe our overall programs met our state’s high standards.”