Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has informed state officials one of its power lines in Butte County suffered an outage at about the time that county’s devastating Camp Fire ignited in the hills near the town of Pulga.
Cal Fire officials have not disclosed a cause for the Camp Fire, which by Saturday night had consumed more than 105,000 acres, destroyed more than 6,700 buildings and caused a reported 23 deaths.
However, PG&E submitted a report Thursday to the California Public Utilities Commission about an outage at a 115-kilovolt line on Pulga Road in Butte County at 6:15 a.m. that day, and noted that the site was near the Camp Fire.
Cal Fire has listed Pulga Road as the Camp Fire starting point.
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PG&E officials declined to comment. However, in a public statement, PG&E wrote that customer safety is its No. 1 issue and that the fire’s cause remains undetermined.
“The cause of the Camp Fire has not yet been determined. PG&E has provided an initial electric incident report to the (PUC). The information provided in this report is preliminary and PG&E will fully cooperate with any investigations.”
The utility had initially indicated earlier in the week that it might preemptively cut off electricity to parts of several Northern California counties, including Butte, as a safety measure because of fire danger. But company officials said they decided not to, saying weather conditions did not warrant it.
The utility company has been criticized in the past year by residents and state officials after a bevy of wildfires tied to downed power lines swept through the state in October 2017.
Investigative reports in May and June from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection linked PG&E to 16 fires in 2017 that killed 18 people and destroyed thousands of homes and other buildings.
The PG&E service area covers much of Northern and Central California, and includes 18,000 miles of power lines. It will spend up to $70 million this year to clear vegetation near those lines, a spokesman said in an email.
In three cases, Cal Fire contends PG&E violated state codes by failing to get rid of trees and vegetation near power lines. PG&E said it is reviewing Cal Fire’s findings.
“Based on the information we have so far, we continue to believe our overall programs met our state’s high standards,” spokesman Paul Moreno said in an email to The Bee last month.
He added that the utility has been increasing its efforts lately, writing, “in response to the increased risk of fire danger brought on by climate change and drought, we are doing more to ensure PG&E facilities are safe and reliable.”
PG&E also has come under fire for cutting down trees near power lines as a safety precaution.