Power lines and electrical equipment are a leading cause of California Wildfires
The deadliest wildfires in state history have raised questions about whether a repeat culprit might again be to blame for starting or spreading at least some of the Northern California blazes: utility companies and their equipment.
The explosive failure of power lines and other electrical equipment has regularly ranked among the top three singular sources of California wildfires for the last several years. In 2015, the last year of reported data, electrical power problems sparked the burning of 149,241 acres — more than twice the amount from any other cause.
And regulators have hit the state's investor-owned utilities with tens of millions of dollars in fines related to wildfires, including $37 million for the 2007 Malibu fire (Southern California Edison); $14.4 million for the Witch, Rice and Guejito fires the same year (San Diego Gas & Electric); and $8.3 million for the September 2015 Butte Fire (Pacific Gas & Electric).
Investigators have yet to determine what sparked the Northern California fires.
But a review of emergency radio traffic recordings found that fire crews were dispatched to at least 10 spots in Sonoma County in response to reports of sparking electrical wires and exploding transformers as high winds pummeled the area on the night of Oct. 8, the San Jose Mercury News reported. The first fires were reported about the same time, the newspaper said.
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M-Fire Demonstration in Denver