BUTTE COUNTY — Cal Fire officially announced Wednesday that Pacific Gas and Electric electrical transmission lines started the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California’s history.
“While we have not been able to review CAL FIRE’s report, its determination that PG&E transmission lines near the Pulga area ignited the Camp Fire on the morning of November 8, 2018, is consistent with the company’s previous statements,” the utility wrote in a statement. “We have not been able to form a conclusion as to whether a second fire ignited as a result of vegetation contact with PG&E electrical distribution lines, as CAL FIRE also determined.”
Read PG&E’s statement in full below.
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Following the announcement, the utility’s CEO made a public appearance.
“It’s a disappointment that this happened. Let’s not do it again,” said PG&E’S new CEO Bill Johnson.
The Camp Fire started on Nov. 8, 2018, in the early morning hours in the town of Pulga, eventually spreading to areas east and west of Concow, Paradise, Magalia and east Chico.
It killed 85 people, burned 153,336 acres and destroyed 18,804 structures.
The Cal Fire report detailed that transmission lines in one area of Paradise started the fire. It also stated there was a second location where lines were knocked down near Concow. Both ignition points are blamed on PG&E equipment.
Eventually, the first fire overtook the second and became the massive Camp Fire.
“It certainly brings even greater urgency to our need to inspect, repair, have a power safety shutoff plan. To do these things we’re doing and do them in a hurry,” Johnson said.
Johnson took questions from the state Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee Wednesday.
Though not a surprise, he said the announcement adds pressure to the utility, which is now going through federal bankruptcy.
Questions remain about what PG&E’s role will be in the Camp Fire cleanup and how much money it will shell out to fire victims and their families.
“We have a sense of urgency about paying those claims, making sure the people who’re affected get paid, that’s not the right way to say it, but get compensated,” Johnson said.
“Where’s PG&E? Where are you guys in terms of helping us be part of the restoration?” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Chico.
Gallagher, who represents Paradise, is upset with what he calls the insufficient role PG&E has played so far in helping Camp Fire communities rebuild.
He’s echoed calls to explore new ways to deliver energy to the fire-prone region outside of PG&E.
“I think we should at least look at what are the different alternatives. Is it maybe a breakup?” Gallagher said.
Aside from settlement payments to fire victims, committee Chairman and Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, said lawmakers need to make sure the utility’s improving its equipment and its ability to predict conditions for devastating fires.
“That’s really to help put them in a better position to get ahead of these wildfires where they’re hardening their equipment, they’re looking at new technology,” he said.
PG&E’s new CEO is inheriting a monumental task with lives and property on the line.
“We’re in much better shape today than we were last year or even last fall. A tremendous amount of work,” Johnson said.