MENDOCINO Co., 6/8/18 — CalFire has released their findings in the investigations into the causes of the various fires that struck California on the night of Oct. 8, during what they are calling the Oct. 2017 Fire Siege.
In the case of the Redwood Fire, which killed nine people, burned 36,523 acres, and destroyed 543 structures, CalFire has determined that the fire began in two separate places when parts of trees or a tree fell on Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) power lines. However, CalFire also determined that PG&E did not violate state law — and they are NOT referring the case to the Mendocino County district attorney. Essentially, while CalFire has determined that vegetations coming into contact with PG&E equipment caused this fire, they do not believe that PG&E has failed to maintain their power lines and other equipment to the standards required by law. Given that the standard was met, they are not referring the case to the D.A. for prosecution — this does not preclude the possibility of civil action.
According to the official CalFire report, the fire first began at about 11:30 p.m. Oct. 8, in a patch of blackberry bushes at 13801 N. Busch Rd. in Potter Valley. A witness saw an electric arc coming off a "conductor" starting the brush fire. A separate fire began sometime in the next hour, also caused by electrical equipment, at 9100 Main St. in Potter Valley. Those two fires, which began 1.7 miles apart, burned together.
A third fire, a spot fire caused embers carried by the wind from the earlier fires, was reported in Redwood Valley at the south side of East Road Bridge, near where East Rd. intersects with Tomki. This fire was reported at 12:37 a.m. and by the time the Redwood Valley Fire Department arrived had grown to five acres. The three fires eventually burned together and destroyed large sections of Redwood and Potter valleys.
In eight other cases, including in Sulphur Fire in Lake County, the Atlas Fire in Napa and the Pocket Fire Sonoma, CalFire has referred their findings to the respective D.A.s of those counties to pursue charges against PG&E for violations of the law.
In the case of the Sulphur Fire, the determination of CalFire was that a PG&E power pole failed, and brought power lines in contact with the ground. They have referred that incident to the Lake County D.A.
In the case of the Atlas Fire, which killed six people in Napa County, PG&E determined that the fire was caused by trees striking power lines and have referred the case to the Napa D.A.
PG&E has responded to the release of the investigation by saying that they believe, their "overall programs met our state’s high standards." In their press release they did not take issue with a specific finding of CalFire's nor did they they say that they had met the requirements of California law in every case, just that the "overall programs" met the "standard."
Their press release goes on to detail the greater risk and damage of wildfires in California with the increase of what they call "extreme weather." There is a broad consensus among climate experts that as climate change proceeds the risk and danger of wildfire in California increases. PG&E goes on to detail steps they are taking to mitigate fire risk in the future, but does not directly address the multiple lawsuits they are facing.
These new findings present a problem for PG&E which is currently facing multiple lawsuits. There are at least 15 fires the cause of which seems to have involved PG&E equipment — and CalFire is alleging that in at least 9 of these fires PG&E failed to maintain their equipment to the standard required by state law, opening them up to prosecution in addition to civil suits.
The investigation on the Tubbs Fire, the truly enormous fire that killed 43 people in Sonoma County, is not yet complete, and no findings have been released.
CalFire has released its complete report on the causes of the Redwood Incident, and it can be found below.
Here's the press release from CalFire with the summary of their investigations:
CAL FIRE Investigators Determine Causes of 12 Wildfires in Mendocino, Humboldt, Butte, Sonoma, Lake, and Napa CountiesSacramento – After extensive and thorough investigations, CAL FIRE investigators have determined that 12 Northern California wildfires in the October 2017 Fire Siege were caused by electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles.The October 2017 Fire Siege involved more than 170 fires and burned at least 245,000 acres in Northern California. About 11,000 firefighters from 17 states and Australia helped battle the blazes.CAL FIRE investigators were dispatched to the fires last year and immediately began working to determine their origin and cause. CAL FIRE investigators continue to investigate the remaining 2017 fires, both in October and December, and will release additional reports as they are completed. The cause of four Northern California fires were released on May 25.Below is a summary of the findings from the 12 completed investigations:The Redwood Fire, in Mendocino County, started the evening of Oct. 8 and burned a total of 36,523 acres, destroying 543 structures. There were nine civilian fatalities and no injuries to firefighters. CAL FIRE has determined the fire started in two locations and was caused by tree or parts of trees falling onto PG&E power lines.The Sulphur Fire, in Lake County, started the evening of Oct. 8 and burned a total of 2,207 acres, destroying 162 structures. There were no injuries. CAL FIRE investigators determined the fire was caused by the failure of a PG&E owned power pole, resulting in the power lines and equipment coming in contact with the ground.The Cherokee Fire, in Butte County, started the evening of Oct. 8 and burned a total of 8,417 acres, destroying 6 structures. There were no injuries. CAL FIRE investigators have determined the cause of the fire was a result of tree limbs coming into contact with PG&E power lines.The 37 Fire, in Sonoma County, started the evening of Oct. 9 and burned a total of 1,660 acres, destroying 3 structures. There were no injuries. CAL FIRE investigators have determined the cause of the fire was electrical and was associated with the PG&E distribution lines in the area.The Blue Fire, in Humboldt County, started the afternoon of Oct. 8 and burned a total of 20 acres. There were no injuries. CAL FIRE investigators have determined a PG&E power line conductor separated from a connector, causing the conductor to fall to the ground, starting the fire.The Norrbom, Adobe, Partrick, Pythian and Nuns fires were part of a series of fires that merged in Sonoma and Napa counties. These fires started in the late-night hours of Oct. 8and burned a combined total of 56,556 acres, destroying 1,355 structures. There were three civilian fatalities.CAL FIRE investigators determined the Norrbom Fire was caused by a treefalling and coming in contact with PG&E power lines.CAL FIRE investigators determined the Adobe Fire was caused by a eucalyptus tree falling into a PG&E powerline.CAL FIRE investigators determined the Partrick Fire was caused by an oak tree falling into PG&E powerlines.CAL FIRE investigators determined the Pythian Fire was caused by a downedpowerline after PG&E attempted to re-energize the line.CAL FIRE investigators determined the Nuns Fire was caused by a brokentop of a tree coming in contact with a power line.The Pocket Fire, in Sonoma County, started the early morning hours of Oct. 9 and burned a total of 17,357 acres, destroying 6 structures. There were no injuries. CAL FIRE has determined the fire was caused by the top of an oak tree breaking and coming into contact with PG&E power lines.The Atlas Fire, in Napa County, started the evening of Oct. 8 and burned a total of 51,624 acres, destroying 783 structures. There were six civilian fatalities. CAL FIRE investigators determined the fire started in two locations. At one location, it was determined a large limb broke from a tree and came into contact with a PG&E power line. At the second location, investigators determined a tree fell into the same line.CAL FIRE’s investigations have been referred to the appropriate county District Attorney’s offices for review in eight of the 12 fires – Sulphur, Blue, Norrbom, Partrick, Pythian, Adobe, Pocket and Atlas – due to evidence of alleged violations of state law.
LE-80 Redwood Incident Report_Redacted
Adrian Fernandez Baumann, [email protected]