The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has determined the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the state utility that provides natural gas and electricity to two-thirds of the state, is at fault for starting the horrific Camp Fire that erupted in November 2018.
Cal Fire on Wednesday said the Camp Fire, which inflicted $16.5 billion in damage, destroyed close to 19,000 structures (including 14,000 homes) and killed 85 persons, was caused by electrical transmission lines owned by PG&E. It said it conducted “a very meticulous and thorough investigation” of the Camp Fire before reaching this conclusion.
“Cal Fire has determined that the Camp fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric located in the Pulga area,” said the state agency.
Cal Fire said its investigative report was forwarded to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey. The Camp Fire began at Camp Creek Road in Butte County, hence the fire’s name.
“The tinder dry vegetation and Red Flag conditions consisting of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures promoted this fire and caused extreme rates of spread, rapidly burning into Pulga to the east and west into Concow, Paradise, Magalia and the outskirts of east Chico,” said Cal Fire in its report.
Cal Fire said its investigators found a second ignition site for the blaze near the intersection of Concow and Rim roads.
“The cause of the second fire was determined to be vegetation into electrical distribution lines owned and operated by PG&E. This fire was consumed by the original fire which started earlier near Pulga.”
California has regulations requiring strict vegetation management practices by PG&E and other utilities. These regulations include standards for keeping vegetation clear of electrical transmission lines.
The Camp Fire is the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. It was the deadliest wildfire in the United States since 1918, and is the sixth-deadliest U.S. wildfire overall. It was also the world’s costliest natural disaster last year.
The Camp Fire destroyed 90 percent of the town of Paradise, which once had a population of some 27,000 residents. Survivors of the catastrophe have since been relocated to nearby communities, including Chico and Oroville.
In February, PG&E said it believed it’s “probable” the company’s equipment will be found to be the source of the Camp Fire. The state’s largest electric utility, PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection in late January after being inundated by a mass of lawsuits from the wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018, including the Camp Fire.
The scores of lawsuits from Camp Fire survivors will take years to resolve, and PG&E could potentially face criminal charges in connection with the Camp Fire.