No criminal charges in fatal 2018 California wildfire

California

FILE – In this Nov. 9, 2018, file photo, palm trees frame a home being destroyed by the Woolsey wildfire above Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif. The California Department of Justice announced, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021 that it will not pursue criminal charges against Southern California Edison for the 2018 Wolsey Fire that burned across more than 150 square miles, destroyed more than 1,600 structures and took three lives in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California Department of Justice said Friday that it will not bring criminal charges against a utility whose equipment sparked a 2018 fire that killed three people and destroyed more than 1,600 homes and other structures.

The department said it found “insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution” against Southern California Edison for the Woolsey Fire.

The fire forced nearly 300,000 residents of Los Angeles and Ventura counties to flee flames that burned across more than 150 square miles (39,000 hectares).

Investigators found that high winds blew a loose guy wire into electrified conductors, causing an electrical arc and a first ignition. The utility’s “poor vegetation control” near its lines contributed to a second ignition when its lines became electrified by the first arcing, they found.

But the department concluded that it couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt not only that the utility’s equipment caused the fire, but that the company knew it was causing a risk and ignored it in “a gross deviation from what a reasonable utility would have done in the same situation.”

The decision contrasts with the numerous criminal charges brought or planned against Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation’s largest utility.

PG&E’s equipment has been blamed for sparking some of the state’s deadliest wildfires, most notably when a series of blazes burned down more than 28,000 buildings and killed more than 100 people in 2017 and 2018.

It has said its equipment may have ignited some of the fires currently burning, including Northern California’s giant Dixie Fire.

Also Friday, state fire investigators said they were unable to find the cause of September’s Glass Fire that started in Napa County.

That fire destroyed more than 1,500 structures while burning more than 100 square miles (27,000 hectares).

High winds and temperatures along with dry vegetation led to “extreme rates of fire spread which contributed to the difficulty in determining the cause of the fire,” investigators said.

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