Camp Fire: PG&E finds bullet holes, broken equipment at sites where blaze likely started

The Sacramento Bee – by Dale Kasler

PG&E has acknowledged to regulators that it found bullet holes, a broken transmission-tower hook and other flaws with equipment at sites where the catastrophic Camp Fire is believed to have started last month.

In its most detailed accounting yet of the problems that might have led to the Nov. 8 wildfire that consumed most of Paradise, the beleaguered utility told state officials that its inspectors have found a “broken C-hook” on a high-voltage tower near the community of Pulga, northeast of Paradise. Lawyers for Camp Fire survivors suing PG&E have suggested the broken hook might have allowed a live “jumper” cable to make contact with the tower itself, showering the dry ground below with sparks. 

Separately, at a power pole in the Big Bend area of Concow several miles away, PG&E employees found 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,” PG&E senior director of regulatory relations Meredith Allen wrote in a letter to the Public Utilities Commission.

In addition, the utility said that a PG&E employee patrolling Concow Road northeast of Paradise four days after the fire saw “wires down and damaged and downed poles at the intersection of Concow Road and Rim Road. 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 wrote.

Previously, PG&E had disclosed that it experienced equipment problems at Pulga and Big Bend around the time the fire started, but released no other details. Cal Fire is still investigating, and Allen’s letter stressed that the “the cause of these incidents has not been determined and may not be fully understood until additional information becomes available.”

The disclosures have put Pacific Gas and Electric Co., already facing billions of dollars in potential losses from the October 2017 wine country fires, under intense scrutiny. Scores of lawsuits have been filed, the PUC has ordered PG&E to overhaul its corporate culture to improve safety, and the company’s stock price has tumbled.

Numerous lawsuits have accused PG&E of not maintaining its equipment properly. The company this week announced it would step up safety efforts by increasing equipment inspections and other measures.

The fire killed 86 people, making it the deadliest in California history. Risk management consultant RMS has said losses could surpass $7 billion.


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