PG&E power lines caused California’s deadliest fire, investigators conclude
Ariel view of destruction from the Camp fire in Paradise off of Clark Road. The Camp Fire has burned more than 7,000 structures in Paradise.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Crews continue their search for victims of the Camp fire in Paradise, Calif., where the majority of homes were destroyed by the fast-moving wildfire.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A body is recovered from Ridgewood Mobile Home Park in Paradise, as the search continues for victims of the Camp Fire in Paradise.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Little remains of the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park in Paradise, Calif., where a team recovered one victim Monday.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
The search for victims continues in Paradise, Calif., after the deadly Camp fire raced through the community.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A crew recovers the remains of a dog on Lawndale Lane in Paradise, Calif.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A horse at the Butte County Fairgrounds has its owner’s phone number on its neck(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Outside of Pulga, Calif., on the North Fork of the Feather River, helicopters do airdrops while ground crews try to keep the Camp fire from spreading.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Two young deer stand in the rubble of a home in Paradise, Calif.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Burned out business in the downtown area of Paradise, Calif., after the Camp fire burned through the area.(Peter Dasilva / EPA / Shutterstock)
Silvia Johnson, age 85, said her house in Paradise, Calif., was burning when she left it, and knows it’s gone. Johnson has been living in Paradise for 48 years and says of the fire, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
The sun rises over the burned hills near Paradise, Calif., as the Camp fire continues to burn.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Firefighters work to keep flames from spreading through the Shadowbrook apartment complex as a wildfire burns through Paradise, Calif., on Friday.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
Scorched vehicles at a used-car dealership in Paradise, Calif., on Friday.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
Officer Randy Law tends to a rescued horse as a wildfire burns in Paradise, Calif.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
A firefighter battles flames in the Butte County town of Magalia on Friday.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Abandoned vehicles on the side of a road in Paradise, Calif.(Josh Edelson / AFP-Getty Images)
A home burns in Paradise, Calif.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Hospital workers and first responders evacuate patients from Feather River Hospital as the Camp fire moves through Paradise, Calif.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Rescue teams scramble to evacuate patients as Feather River Hospital burns in Paradise, Calif.(Josh Edelson / AFP-Getty Images)
A statue is seen on a smouldering property as the Camp fire tears through Paradise.(Josh Edelson / AFP-Getty Images)
A home is overshadowed by towering smoke plumes as the Camp fire races through town in Paradise(JOSH EDELSON / AFP/Getty Images)
A home burns during the Camp fire in Paradise. At least five people have died in a massive wildfire raging in northern Calif.(JOSH EDELSON / AFP/Getty Images)
A Jack In The Box fast food restaurant burns as the Camp fire tears through Paradise.(JOSH EDELSON / AFP/Getty Images)
Flames consume a Kentucky Fried Chicken as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
A fire fighter puts water on a fire as he performs structure protection, as the Camp Fire burns out of control through Paradise.(PETER DASILVA / EPA / Shutterstock)
Hillery Johnson prepares to leave here horse, Augie in a shopping center parking lot after law enforcement officers said it was time to leave as the Camp fire approached and there is no trailer to transport Augie out of the area.(PETER DASILVA / EPA / Shutterstock)
Hospital workers embrace as they evacuate patients from the Feather River Hospital in Paradise, Calif.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
A home burns as the Camp fire rages through Paradise.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
A Paradise business is in ruins as the Camp fire ravaged the area.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Hospital workers and first-responders evacuate patients from the Feather River Hospital in Paradise.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Flames engulf a home in Paradise.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
The evacuation of patients continues at the Feather River Hospital in Paradise.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
The Camp fire rages through Paradise.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
Flames from the Camp fire destroy a home in Paradise.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
The evacuation at Feather River Hospital.(Noah Berger / Associated Press)
A building burns in Paradise.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have concluded that Pacific Gas & Electric equipment caused the devastating Camp fire that destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and killed 85 people, most of them elderly, last year.
The conclusion of the Cal Fire probe marks a milestone in the recovery from the worst wildfire in modern California history.
“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,” the agency said in a news release Wednesday.
PG&E in February acknowledged that “the company believes it is probable that its equipment will be determined to be an ignition point of the 2018 Camp fire.”
The utility’s new chief executive, Bill Johnson, testified in a committee hearing at the state Capitol on Wednesday as the news was announced.
“It’s a disappointment that this happened,” Johnson said to state lawmakers. “Let’s not do it again.”
Johnson pledged that the company would demonstrate a higher commitment to safety under his watch, which includes visually inspecting all of its equipment in areas of high fire risk, intensifying vegetation management and shutting off power in advance of dangerous conditions.
“I will tell you we will be laser-focused on safety, but I won’t expect you to believe that until you see the results,” Johnson said. “The outcomes for the people, the citizens, the customers, have to be better here.”
PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection in part because of losses from the Nov. 8 fire, which scorched more than 153,000 acres and has put new pressure on utilities to improve the safety of their power distribution systems.
Scores of lawsuits have been filed against the state’s biggest utility on behalf of people who lost their homes, loved ones and pets. They accuse the utility of failing to properly maintain its equipment.
On Wednesday, Cal Fire spokesman Mike Mohler said the investigation was complicated by a number of factors.
“It was topography, it was the intensity of the fire and the footprint of the fire itself, how large it was,” Mohler said. “A fire investigation is very, very methodical and it takes a lot of time. Our investigators don’t have an opportunity to be 80% right, we have to be 100% right, and it’s about getting closure for the fire survivors and victims.”
The Camp fire was the deadliest blaze in state history and the latest in a series of wind-driven fires that have brought scrutiny to how utilities operate during extreme fire conditions.
Mohler said he was “cautiously optimistic” that 2019 will not be a repeat of the last two fire years. “We’re lucky to get additional precipitation in May in the north and south.… We’ve prepared for the worst, but we’re hoping for the best.”
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