After lawsuits blaming Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) for causing the Camp Fire was filed, the company confirmed on Dec. 11 that several signs of damage including a broken hook, flash mark, as well as bullet holes were found on its equipment in the vicinity of where the fire started, according to a letter PG&E sent to the California Public Utilities Commission.
According to the letter, a PG&E employee spotted a fire that was close to a power transmission tower around 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 8. Later that day, an aerial patrol realized that the tower was damaged as a suspension insulator, which was supposed to support a transposition jumper, had separated from an arm on the tower but was still above the ground.
PG&E said the damaged tower was inaccessible due to the restriction from Cal Fire until Nov. 14 when the company was asked to assist an investigation carried out by Cal Fire. They found a broken C-hook attached to the separated suspension insulator. The C-hook was used to connect the suspension insulator to a tower arm.
Close to where the damage happened and the suspending transposition jumper, a flash mark was observed on the tower by PG&E. In addition, another adjacent power transmission tower was also found damaged, which has an insulator hold down anchor disconnected.
PG&E confirmed in the letter there was an outage on the Caribou-Palermo 115 kV Transmission line 20 minutes before the fire started, which they have reported in a notice on Nov. 8. Moreover, the letter mentioned there was another outage on the Big Bend Circuit 15 minutes after the fire started and its equipment was damaged by gunshots.
One day after the fire ignited, an employee of PG&E went to where the outage occurred. As a result, the employee found “the pole and other equipment was on the ground with bullets and bullet holes at the breakpoint of the pole and on the equipment,” according to the letter.
The company also noticed that there were wires down and poles damaged on the road within the burned area. One employee with PG&E also observed “several snapped trees, with some on top of the downed wires.”
“These incidents remain under investigation and this information is preliminary,” said PG&E Regulatory Executive Meredith E. Allen. “The cause of these incidents has not been determined and may not be fully understood until additional information becomes available, including information that can only be obtained through examination and testing of the equipment retained by CAL FIRE.”
Last week, a lawsuit against PG&E was filed by a collation of law firms named Northern California Fire Lawyers on behalf of 34 Camp Fire survivors, alleging that the mechanical failure of a component on a power transmission tower resulting from poor maintenance was the cause of the Camp Fire.
The lawsuit claims a steel wire hook on a power transmission tower failed to hold up a high voltage line amidst strong winds and led the uninsulated wire to make contact with the steel tower. As a result, “blazing hot molten materials” fell on dry vegetation below the tower and ignited the fire.
The Camp Fire, which started on Nov. 8, is the deadliest wildfire in the state history, which killed at least 85 people—mostly the elderly and the disabled. The fire charred more than 150,000 acres by the time it was finally extinguished on Dec. 6. The fire consumed nearly 14,000 residences in addition to some 4,800 other buildings and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate.
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