PG&E CONFIRMS EQUIPMENT FAILURE IN CAMP FIRE
PG&E’s equipment in Butte County, a region scorched by the disastrous and deadly Camp Fire, was damaged before the inferno began, including with bullet holes, a fallen hook and a broken tower arm, the embattled utility disclosed in a new letter to state regulators.
The latest revelations from PG&E confirmed prior suspicions that a damaged transmission tower caused a power line to fail in the origin area of the blaze. The letter also said it was a PG&E worker who first noticed the fire and called 911.
Cal Fire is investigating the cause of the lethal blaze, which broke out Nov. 8, killed at least 86, and effectively destroyed the town of Paradise. The probe’s focus includes PG&E’s Caribou-Palermo electrical transmission line and a power pole that’s part of the company’s Big Bend circuit, both in Butte County.
A power outage was reported on Nov. 8 at 6:15 a.m. in the service area of the Caribou-Palermo line and a separate electricity outage was reported the same day at 6:45 a.m. in the Big Bend service area, according to the letter submitted to the state Public Utilities Commission by Meredith Allen, a PG&E regulatory executive.
In between the times of these power failures, at about 6:30 a.m., a PG&E employee observed a fire near one of its transmission towers on the Caribou-Palermo line and the worker placed a call to the 911 emergency line.
In addition, on Nov. 9, a PG&E employee arrived at a second location where a power pole was located “on the Big Bend 1101 Circuit and observed that the pole and other equipment was on the ground with bullets and bullet holes at the break point of the pole and on the equipment,” Allen wrote to the Public Utilities Commission in a letter made public Tuesday evening.
An aerial examination later that day revealed the energized power line appeared to have been separated from one of the metal towers. When crews were able to inspect the equipment on Nov. 14, they discovered multiple points of damage and failure on nearby towers.
“At the time of the collection at Tower 27/222, PG&E observed a broken C-hook attached to the separated suspension insulator that had connected the 2 suspension insulator to a tower arm, along with wear at the connection point,” the utility said.
Besides the broken hook, crews also observed a “flash mark” on the tower.
A second, smaller power line also experienced an outage at 6:45 a.m. on Nov. 8 nearby, the utility said. An inspection the following day revealed a wooden pole and equipment on the ground “with bullet points and bullet holes at the break point of the pole.”
Additional damage was discovered on Nov. 12 by a PG&E employee on another road in the area, where he found wires down, in addition to damaged and downed poles.
“This location is within the Camp Fire footprint. At this location, the employee observed several snapped trees, with some on top of the downed wires,” Allen told regulators.
San Francisco-based PG&E is already under pressure because its equipment was found to be the cause of multiple lethal wildfires that scorched the North Bay Wine Country and nearby regions in October 2017 and killed 44. Cal Fire has yet to determine the cause of the destructive Wine Country Tubbs Fire that was one of the worst of last year’s infernos.
Separately, a federal jury in 2016 found PG&E guilty of crimes it committed before and after a fatal natural gas explosion in 2010 that killed eight and destroyed a San Bruno neighborhood. In January 2017, PG&E was sentenced for its crimes and is now a convicted felon.
PG&E’s shoddy maintenance and flawed record keeping were determined to have caused the San Bruno explosion. In the wake of the infernos of 2017 and 2018, some have criticized PG&E for inadequate maintenance and repair efforts on its electricity system.
Considerable investigative efforts will likely be required to determine the specific cause of the Camp Fire.
“These incidents remain under investigation, and this information is preliminary,” PG&E stated in its letter to the PUC. “The cause of these incidents has not been determined and may not be fully understood until additional information becomes available.”
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