Northern California’s energy utility, PG&E, is facing mounting scrutiny from wildfire survivors over its potential role in sparking the Camp Fire that has devastated communities, killed dozens of people and scorched hundreds of square kilometres of land since Nov. 8.
The official cause of the blaze has not been identified, but lawyers for the fire survivors are already blaming PG&E’s power lines for playing a role in starting it.
PG&E has reported two power-line outages in the area around where the Camp Fire started early Nov. 8. The utility has said it could face liability that exceeds its insurance coverage if its power lines are to blame for the fire.
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A line near the area of Concow in Butte County suffered an outage at 6:45 a.m. on Nov. 8, according to a PG&E incident report filed on Friday with the safety division of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
In a previous report, PG&E said it experienced an outage on a transmission line that same morning around the town of Pulga, near where the fire is thought to have started.
“The information provided is preliminary and PG&E will fully cooperate with any investigations,” the utility wrote on its website.
A CPUC spokesman confirmed that the agency received the second report on Friday, and said the incident would be incorporated into its investigation “to assess the compliance of electric facilities with applicable rules and regulations in fire impacted areas.”
The Camp Fire has killed at least 77 people, forced thousands from their homes and scorched 611 square kilometres (236 square miles) since Nov. 8, officials said Monday. It also wiped out Paradise, a town of 27,000 people.
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Displaced residents of Paradise have already started examining the ruins of their town, where rescue crews are still picking through the ruins for missing people who are feared dead.
Forecasters say it might rain on Paradise on Wednesday, although the water could bring new challenges. The National Weather Service warns that rain might trigger land or rock slides. Rescuers say the water might make it harder to find and identify human remains.
A coalition of law firms announced last week that they were suing PG&E on behalf of several Camp Fire survivors. The lawsuit alleges PG&E was negligent in the way it maintained its infrastructure, and that the utility may have contributed to causing the fire. It does not cite a specific amount in damages.
A separate group of lawyers says it’s investigating what role PG&E played in the fire. The group is also scrutinizing Southern California Edison, the utility that services the southern part of the state where the Woolsey Fire wiped out parts of Malibu earlier this month.
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The Woolsey Fire has burned at least 1,500 buildings since it started on Nov. 8, officials announced on Monday. The fire has killed three people and burned 391 square kilometres (151 square miles) in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Officials have not indicated what caused the Woolsey Fire.
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press