Why did a 99-year old power line fail, igniting the Camp fire?

Investigators have removed parts of a transmission tower to examine more closely

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Investigators are zeroing in on their goal to determine exactly what caused molten aluminum and metal to drop from a 115,000-volt PG&E power line tower at about 6:15 a.m. on November 8 near Poe Dam seven miles east of Paradise, California. A few hours later most of the town had been reduced to ashes as 50 mph winds pushed the wildfire through the community, killing at least 85 people and making thousands homeless.

As reported by an article in the Mercury News, something failed on the tower, causing a power line to get loose and whip around, striking metal which instantly heated, melted, and dropped to the ground igniting the vegetation. It could have been “a tiny O-ring that holds up rows of disc-shaped insulators, or possibly fatigued steel from one of the tower’s arms”, the article explains. The tower was built in 1919 which raises the possibility of worn out parts and metal fatigue. CAL FIRE has removed some pieces from the tower to examine further.

The newspaper also reports that CAL FIRE is investigating a possible second point of ignition below a PG&E lower voltage distribution line that occurred about half an hour after the first failure.

The Camp Fire started 13 months after the disastrous fires that burned in the Napa Valley in October of 2017. There are reports that at least 12 of them were caused by Pacific Gas & Electric power lines.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “Why did a 99-year old power line fail, igniting the Camp fire?”

  1. Everyone wants to blame PG&E, but what if some stupid, crazy, useless, low life with a grudge against the world takes his 30.06 and shoots the insulator? If that is the case I for one hope he is one of the 88.

  2. When are we going to begin working on all the parts of our failing infrastructure? After we pay to build a border wall? Our national debt is monstrous but what is being repaired, rebuilt?

  3. CA residents will foot the bill, as PG&E customers will get a drastic increase in their power bills. The Gov of CA won’t let PG&E go under.

  4. Please reread the title of the article? Is the author wondering why a 99 year old tower failed or wondering WHY there was a 99 year old tower still up? With all the taxes Californians pay, and all the money that’s allocated to trivial things in California by our state legislature (almost $1 million dollar per public bus that I see empty in my city) we should have new towers. And, how much of a bonus have the PG&E executives, board, anyone else received each end of the year? Maybe that money could have been used to build new towers. Ridiculous!!

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