Southern California utilities say equipment probably sparked California fires

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Scorched hillsides and damaged power lines are seen along the Pacific Coast Highway near Leo Carrillo State Beach, November 10, 2018 in Malibu, California, November 10, 2018 after the Woosley Fire tore through the area overnight. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two Southern California utilities acknowledged Tuesday that it is likely their equipment sparked wildfires that killed three people and destroyed hundreds of homes.

A wildfire that erupted Monday and destroyed a dozen homes in the star-studded Brentwood area of Los Angeles probably erupted when Santa Ana winds drove a dried eucalyptus tree branch into a Department of Water and Power line, causing it to arc and spark, the utility announced.

The branch traveled some 30 feet (9 meters) and the power line and pole didn’t fall or fail, the utility said, noting that investigators are trying to determine who owns the land where the tree stands.

The fire that ignited on a hillside near the J. Paul Getty Museum drove residents as well as celebrities like LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger from their homes.

A firefighter hoses down a burning house during the Getty Fire on October 28, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

The fire was reduced to smoldering hot spots by Tuesday but about 9,000 people remained under evacuation orders and firefighters warned that hot, dry winds were due to return Tuesday night, possibly at increasing strength, bringing with them the chance of reigniting the blaze.

Meanwhile, Southern California Edison announced in its quarterly earnings report that its equipment probably caused the November 2018 Woolsey Fire that raged from north of Los Angeles through Malibu to the sea, killing three people and burning more than 1,600 homes and other buildings.

While lawsuits from victims’ families had blamed the utility, the cause remains under investigation by Southern California Edison, Cal Fire and the Ventura County Fire Department.

In its earnings filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, SCE said that a draft report from the Ventura County Fire Department indicated that fire investigators determined the utility’s equipment to be the cause.

“Absent additional evidence, SCE believes that it is likely that its equipment was associated with the ignition of the Woolsey Fire,” the utility said.

Last year, the company told the state Public Utilities Commission an outage of its equipment before the Woolsey Fire may have been caused by a guy wire and a jumper making contact. Guy wires are used to provide pole support and jumpers connect two energized lines.

Electrical equipment has been blamed for causing some of California’s deadliest and most devastating wildfires in recent years, including one last year that killed 85 people and all but destroyed the town of Paradise.

The threat of billions of dollars in potential wildfire liability costs drove Pacific Gas & Electric — the state’s largest utility — to seek bankruptcy protection.

The threat of high winds smashing debris into power lines or knocking them down has prompted PG&E and other utilities to deliberately black out sweeping areas of the state in recent weeks.

Millions of people have been without power for days, many of them in northern and central areas of the state, including the Sonoma County wine country where a wind-whipped blaze still rages and has destroyed dozens of homes.

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