The Camp Fire, as seen from space.
The Camp Fire, as seen from space.
Indefinitely Wild

PG&E Caused California’s Deadliest Wildfire

A new report officially points the blame for the Paradise fire at the utility's electrical transmission lines


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An investigation by state fire officials has concluded that the electrical utility PG&E is responsible for causing the Camp Fire, which burned Paradise, California, basically to the ground last November. The 153,336-acre fire is the deadliest in state history, killing 85 people and destroying 18,804 structures. It's estimated to have caused $16.5 billion in damage

The report reads: 

After a very meticulous and thorough investigation, CAL FIRE has determined that the Camp Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity (PG&E) located in the Pulga area. The fire started in the early morning hours near the community of Pulga in Butte County. 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. The investigation identified a second ignition sight near the intersection of Concow Rd. and Rim Rd. 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.

Facing multiple lawsuits related to the fire, PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection in January. The most destructive fire in state history, the Camp Fire also caused Merced Property & Casualty Co, a local insurer, to go out of business last year

Home and business owners have been waiting on the results of the investigation, which may help them seek damages from PG&E. According to officials, the investigation was slowed by the sheer size of the blaze, along with the challenging terrain it burned through. 

PG&E provides electricity for 5.4 million customers in California. To avoid future disasters, it’s working with the state to develop plans to cut power across much of its network on windy days during the upcoming fire season, which begins next month. Communities have struggled in the past during a handful of power cuts that lasted only a matter of hours. The utility has warned consumers in Calistoga, just one of the areas it serves, that they could face as many as 15 power cuts this year, some lasting for several days.

“If this is the new normal, we have to accommodate for it,” Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning told The Mercury News. Calistoga and other communities are planningto build emergency shelters and take other measures to help residents through the coming blackouts. The home solar and battery industries are predicting a huge spike in demand as homeowners adapt to the regular power outages. 

Six of the 10 most destructive fires in California history have occurred in the last 18 months, killing 123 people and burning close to 1.9 million acres of the state.