Suit cites PG&E equipment it claims started deadly blaze
This week, The Chronicle presents an inside account of the fire tornado that hit Redding this summer and the acts of bravery, desperation and heroism that occurred in its path. “150 Minutes of Hell” can be seen online at www.sfchron icle.com/firetornado and will appear in print Sunday.
A group of Camp Fire survivors claim in a new lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to have pinned down how the deadly fire started, blaming the ignition of the blaze on a specific part of one of the utility’s transmission towers in Butte County.
The suit filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court says the unprecedented fire began last month east of Paradise because of a poorly maintained “jumper” extension, which leads wires from one side of a transmission tower to another.
As intense winds blew through the area Nov. 8, an uninsulated jumper cable made contact with the PG&E tower in question, sending “blazing hot molten materials” into dry vegetation and sparking what became California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire, according to the lawsuit.
Attorneys place blame directly on “PG&E’s failure to properly inspect and maintain the tower,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of 34 people who said they lost homes or property in the fire.
The lawsuit does not say why the jumper made contact with the tower, but NBC Bay Area reported that authorities are looking at a steel
hook supporting the extension, citing sources familiar with the investigation.
“PG&E’s entire system is old and decrepit, and instead of inspecting and maintaining it in a prudent fashion, they simply let it run until it fails and then fix it,” said Mike Danko, one of the attorneys involved in the suit. “Most of the time, you get away with that . ... But you don’t get away with it in the situation that we have with the drought and the dry conditions.”
PG&E did not comment on the claims in the suit, instead
echoing its previous comments that the safety of the customers and communities it serves are its “highest priority.”
“We are aware of lawsuits regarding the Camp Fire,” spokeswoman Mayra Tostado said in an email. “Right now, our focus is on assessing infrastructure, safely restoring power where possible, and helping our customers recover and rebuild.”
Tostado also stressed that the Camp Fire’s cause is still under investigation.
But speculation has centered
around PG&E since the early days of the fire, after the utility told regulators its high-voltage Caribou-Palermo transmission line malfunctioned shortly before the first flames were reported in the area where the blaze reportedly began.
Thursday’s lawsuit includes pictures of the transmission line running through rugged, forested terrain. Five towers on the line near the Camp Fire origin point collapsed because of a winter storm in 2012, the lawsuit notes. The towers were replaced with temporary wooden poles in 2013, and steel towers were not installed until 2016, the suit says.
Fire officials allowed “representatives of affected parties” to access the Camp Fire origin site Nov. 18, when “pieces of insulators and other debris still littered the ground” under the tower in question, according to the lawsuit.
Authorities had removed failed wire sections and the jumper extension, the lawsuit says. A spokesman for the California Department of For-
A photo included in a lawsuit against PG&E uses arrows to show the sections of a transmission tower that allegedly caused last month’s massive blaze in Butte County.