Investigation into Camp Fire Cause Could Take Months

PULGA -- Cal Fire investigators were in the town of Pulga on Tuesday as the fight to contain the massive Camp Fire continued.

"Right now, we don’t have a confirmed point of origin," Cal Fire spokesman Mark Beveridge said. "We can kind of surmise where it kind of started."

However, the Associated Press reports the owner of Pulga says the day before the Camp Fire started, Pacific Gas and Electric emailed her, saying it was having problems with its lines sparking.

Paul Doherty with PG&E sent a statement to FOX40 Tuesday, which said in part:

"Based on our initial review, the email correspondence with the customer in question was about future planned work on a different transmission line in the area. That line had previously been deenergized and was not operational when the Camp Fire started. We have not seen anything that includes a discussion with the customer in question about “sparks” and PG&E infrastructure. This is not the same line that PG&E identified in its Electric Incident Report on November 8, 2018."

Cal Fire is not jumping to any conclusions.

"It's very methodical when you do an investigation for a wildfire. They’ll literally go to an area and they’ll grid it off, usually one by one foot, you know, one square foot, and they’ll start shifting through everything in there, trying to find out what it, is where it came from. If it’s supposed to be there, not supposed to be there," Beveridge said.

Cal Fire says it could take as long as a year to determine an official cause.

Some Camp Fire Victims Sue PG&E Over Alleged Negligence

Frankie Sallee was paralyzed with fear as the flames of the Camp Fire advanced toward her. Her old Jeep was overheating in the evacuation lines and she pulled over, ready to give in to whatever would come next.

But her dog, Blu, gave her the will to go on.

"I had my dog with me and it wasn't real fair to decide that for him without trying, you know. He's only a year a half old," Sallee said.

While she managed to save Blu and herself, her home, her fifth wheel with a front garden, is now ash on California Way in Paradise. She saved for two years to buy it by living in her car, all so she could help provide for her autistic son.

Sallee, like many now existing on donations provided by others, wants answers about the possible sparks from failing PG&E transmission lines on Pulga Road.

"If I had the energy I would be raging about it. I mean that's how ... the feeling I'm imagining right now. But I'm numb and I don't have the energy," Sallee said.

Other survivors have channeled their energy into a new lawsuit against PG&E, which was filed Tuesday in San Francisco County.

Kristine Meredith is in the coalition of lawyers helping plaintiffs sue. She's been winning cases like this against the utility for years.

"That's what's so troubling to us, is that in fact not only does it not change it gets worse each time," Meredith said. "When I've talked to the people here on the ground the losses are so incredibly devastating, the trauma that they've suffered, and they are very angry."

This new legal effort is not a class action because with those cases all the parties have to have similar injuries. Meredith and others are petitioning for a coordinated action instead.

"In a case such as this the damages are very unique to each property owner and so they have to be resolved independently," she said.

In September, the governor signed a bill softening the standard PG&E could be judged against for liability in situations like the Camp Fire.

Ratepayers may also bear part of the cost burden for an identified liability.

Lawyers for the newest plaintiffs against the company say that's inexcusable along with the utility's "run to fail" practice, meaning supposedly running equipment with little to no maintenance until it fails.

If poor PG&E line maintenance is responsible for destroying what Sallee lived in her car for two years she said the company should not be allowed to be in business.

"So, yeah, if they took that away from me I think they should be out of business any way possible," she said. "I don't know that would possibly happen but I don't think they deserve to be in business."