Forest Service seized PG&E equipment during investigation of Mosquito Fire

The fire has burned 76,781 acres and destroyed 78 structures near Foresthill, California

Mosquito Fire
Mosquito Fire as seen looking ENE from the Auburn camera at 5:32 p.m. Sept. 8, 2022. AlertWildfire.

US Forest Service investigators working to determine the cause of the Mosquito Fire have taken possession of one of Pacific Gas and Electric’s transmission poles and attached equipment. According to a report released by the company September 24, the Forest Service said the fire started in the area of one of the company’s power lines on Forest Service land. PG&E is conducting their own investigation of the cause of the fire.

The agency has not released the cause of the fire which has burned 76,781 acres and destroyed 78 structures near Foresthill, California 35 miles northeast of Sacramento.

In October, 2020 investigators from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection looking for the cause of the Zogg Fire southwest of Redding seized PG&E equipment. The fire which burned 56,338 acres, destroyed 204 structures, and resulted in four civilian fatalities, was caused by a tree contacting a power line operated by PG&E. In September, 2021 the company was charged with manslaughter and dozens of other charges related to the fire.

In 2018 investigators seized parts of a 99-year old PG&E transmission tower at the origin of the Camp Fire which burned into Paradise, California killing at least 85 people and making thousands homeless. In May, 2019 CAL FIRE announced that their investigators determined the fire was caused by the power line.

The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reported that investigators attributed more than 1,500 fires to PG&E power lines and hardware between June 2014 and December 2017. In 2021 we put together a list of 18 fires, mostly large, attributed to failures on PG&E power lines between 1999 and 2020.

Firefighters are mopping up the Mosquito Fire, which received substantial amounts of rain last week. It is still staffed by 1,248 personnel.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.

PG&E reaches settlements with 6 counties for Kincade and Dixie Fires

Will pay $55 million and avoids criminal charges

Kincade Fire map, final, November 9, 2019
Kincade Fire map, final, November 9, 2019.

Pacific Gas and Electric reached an agreement Monday with six Northern California Counties to avoid criminal charges for the company’s role in igniting two very large destructive wildfires, the 2021 Dixie Fire and the 2019 Kincade Fire. The settlement means the district attorneys in the six counties will not pursue criminal charges against the company, or if they have already been filed, will be dismissed.

The Dixie Fire burned on the Plumas National Forest, Lassen National Forest, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and across five counties: Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta and Tehama. The Kincade Fire was in Sonoma County.

The agreements with the counties does not prevent the US Attorney from filing criminal charges for the Dixie Fire. Nor does it prevent civil litigation from property owners. The Sacramento Bee reported that PG&E said it expects liabilities from the Kincade Fire to reach $800 million and the Dixie Fire to be $1.15 billion.

The Dixie and Kincade Fires, caused by PG&E power lines, burned 963,000 and 77,758 acres respectively.

In the settlement PG&E agreed to pay $55 million over a five year period. About $35 million will go to local organizations, volunteer fire departments, local schools, Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, fire safe councils, and other non-profits. The company will pay a $7.5 million civil penalty to Sonoma County related to the Kincade Fire and a $1 million civil penalty to each of the five North Valley counties related to the Dixie Fire. PG&E said they will not seek recovery of these costs from customers.

Details of some of the payments, according to PG&E, include:

Wildfire Safety

  • Local Safety Workforce: Adding 80-100 new PG&E jobs based in Sonoma County, as well as 80-100 more positions collectively across Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta and Tehama counties. These new positions will increase PG&E’s local expertise and presence focused on completing critical safety work in these communities.
  • Local Inspection and Work Commitments: Executing specific safety work and inspections in the six counties including commitments to carry out vegetation management and equipment inspections, which will be reviewed and verified by the independent monitor.

Local Community College Partnerships

  • Fire Technology Training Program: Committing to work collaboratively with Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) on efforts to expand and enhance the College’s Fire Technology Program of the Public Safety Training Center, including providing funding and sharing PG&E wildfire safety know-how and learnings. The company also will provide funding to campuses in the six counties which, at the discretion of the colleges, can be used for site acquisition and development, equipment purchases, and developing and implementing fire technology program curriculum.
  • Vegetation Management Training Program: Providing funding and assisting in the creation of new utility vegetation management training programs at SRJC and several campuses across the North Valley. These programs will be modeled after coursework that debuted at Butte College in 2020.

Direct Payment Program to Accelerate Community Recovery

  • PG&E will launch a new Direct Payments for Community Recovery program with an online tool where individuals whose homes were destroyed by the Dixie Fire can submit claims for expedited review, approval and payment. PG&E will verify the claims and make offers based on an objective, predetermined calculation. Claimants who accept the offers will receive payment, typically within 30 days of accepting an offer and within 75 days of first submitting a complete claim. PG&E has also agreed to provide in-person and telephone customer support centers to navigate this new program.
Firefighters on the Dixie Fire
Firefighters on the Dixie Fire, Strike Team 9163G. CAL FIRE photo.

PG&E assessed $125 million in fines and penalties for starting the 2019 Kincade Fire

The blaze burned more than 77,000 acres, destroyed 374 structures, and caused the evacuation of about 185,000 residents north of Santa Rosa, California

Kincade Fire 9:06 a.m. PDT Oct. 27, 2019
The Kincade Fire as seen from the St. Helena North camera at 9:06 a.m. PDT Oct. 27, 2019. Looking toward Healdsburg.

The California Public Utilities Commission has penalized Pacific Gas and Electric $125 million for violations related to the 2019 Kincade Fire that burned more than 77,000 acres and caused the evacuation of about 185,000 residents north of Santa Rosa, California.

The fire started October 23 northeast of Geyserville, California and destroyed 374 structures.

The settlement agreed to last week requires that PG&E shareholders pay a $40 million fine to the state. The company will also not raise rates to cover the $85 million cost for permanent removal of abandoned transmission facilities, bringing the total fines and penalties to $125 million.

The company was charged with five felonies and 28 misdemeanors, including “unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in great bodily injury, unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in the burning of inhabited structures, and unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in the burning of forest land, as well as various air pollution crimes,” according to the District Attorney’s office.

Investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection sent a report to the District Attorney’s office in July of 2020 which concluded PG&E’s equipment was at fault.

On October 24, 2019 PG&E filed a required preliminary report with the California Public Utilities Commission that stated “at approximately (9:20 p.m.) on Oct. 23, PG&E became aware of a Transmission level outage on the Geysers No. 9 Lakeville 230kV line when the line relayed and did not reclose. At approximately (7:30 a.m.) on Oct. 24, a responding PG&E Troubleman patrolling the Geysers No. 9 Lakeville 230 kV line observed that CalFire had taped off the area around the base of transmission tower 001/006. On site CalFire personnel brought to the Troubleman’s attention what appeared to be a broken jumper on the same tower.”

jumper cable high voltage electrical transmission tower
File photo of a jumper cable on a high voltage electrical transmission tower.

PG&E told a judge on November 29, 2019 that it was investigating whether there was a systemic problem with a piece of hardware on their high voltage electrical transmission towers that can start wildfires, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Investigators with PG&E and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection were looking at the possible failure of jumper cables on towers near the points of origin of two huge recent fires, the 2017 Camp Fire at Paradise, California and the Kincade Fire.

map kincade fire California wildfire
Map showing in red the perimeter of the Kincade Fire at 12:49 a.m. PDT October 29, 2019. The white line was the approximate perimeter about 24 hours before.

Investigators determined that PG&E equipment started other fires in recent years. The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reported that investigators attributed more than 1,500 fires to PG&E power lines and hardware between June 2014 and December 2017. CAL FIRE attributed 12 large fires that started on October 8 and 9, 2017 to PG&E power equipment.

We constructed a list of 18 of the larger fires linked to PG&E equipment.

PG&E charged with manslaughter for Zogg Fire in northern California

Zogg Fire, Sept. 27, 2020 California
Zogg Fire, Sept. 27, 2020. CAL FIRE photo.

In March investigators with CAL FIRE determined that the Zogg Fire which burned 56,338 acres, destroyed 204 structures, and caused four civilian fatalities, was caused by a tree contacting a power line operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). On Friday the company was charged with manslaughter and other charges.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett announced the 31 charges, including 11 felonies, against PG&E, saying it failed to perform its legal duties and that its “failure was reckless and criminally negligent, and it resulted in the death of four people.”

If the utility is convicted of manslaughter, the punishment would be a fine for each person killed in the Zogg Fire last year southwest of Redding, California.

Zogg Fire
Zogg Fire soon after it started, looking east from Ducket at 3:32 p.m. PDT Sept. 27, 2020. AlertWildfire.

Last year PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for starting the Camp Fire which destroyed most of the town of Paradise and became the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century.

The company has admitted that their equipment may have ignited the Dixie Fire which has burned more than 600 residences and 963,000 acres near Susanville, California. At least two firefighters died of COVID-19 while assigned to the fire.

Map of the Zogg Fire
Map of the Zogg Fire October 9, 2020.

Judge orders PG&E to provide information about possible role in starting the Fly and Dixie Fires

The Fly Fire merged with the Dixie Fire which also appears to have been started by the company’s equipment

firefighters Dixie Fire
Firefighters near the site of a venting propane tank on the Dixie Fire. August 4, 2021. Jay Walter photo.

12:58 p.m. PDT August 8, 2021

The Washington Post reported August 7 that a federal judge ordered PG&E to explain the utility company’s role in starting the Dixie and Fly Fires. The official causes of the fires are still under investigation, but U.S. District Judge William Alsup asked the company in an order issued late Friday to give details, by August 16, about the equipment and vegetation in the area where the fires started. Alsup oversees PG&E’s criminal probation for felony convictions stemming from the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.

On July 18 Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) told the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that on July 13 the company’s equipment may have ignited the Dixie Fire which at 453,000 acres has grown to become the second largest single fire in the recorded history of California.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Dixie Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.

PG&E also said in another filing with the PUC on August 2 that its equipment may also be to blame for starting the Fly fire which eventually merged with the Dixie fire.

The Fly Fire was reported Thursday, July 22 near Keddie in Butterfly Valley about four miles north of Quincy. At first there was a question whether it was a spot fire from the Dixie Fire several miles away, or if it was unrelated. A fire behavior analysis determined the spot fire possibility was unlikely.

PG&E said that at about 5:01 p.m. on July 22 activity on SmartMeters, a line recloser, and alarms reported a problem, and the Gansner 1101 circuit was deenergized. Later PG&E assisted the U.S. Forest Service with moving and examining a tree that was resting on a conductor on the circuit.

PG&E says their equipment may have started the Dixie Fire

The fire has burned more than 30,000 acres 25 miles north of Oroville, California

4:08 p.m. PDT July 19, 2021

Dixie Fire 3-D map
Dixie Fire 3-D map July 18, 2021.

In a report to the California Public Utilities Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric explains that on July 13 the company’s equipment may have ignited the Dixie Fire which has burned more than 30,000 acres along Highway 70. The fire is 25 miles north of Oroville. It has burned over or around the communities of Dixie, Merlin, Rock Creek, Storrie, Tobin, and Belden. Remarkably, CAL FIRE has not reported any burned structures, but says 810 are threatened.

PG&E said that at 7 a.m. on July 13 their system detected a loss of power in Feather River Canyon. From a distance their troubleman could see what looked like a blown fuse on a 12 kV power line. Because of challenging terrain and a closed bridge, the report said, another 9 hours and 40 minutes elapsed before he could access the site. He found that two fuses were blown and a live tree was leaning onto the power line. There was a fire on the ground near the base of the tree.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Dixie Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.)

At that time the company called 911 to report the fire. The operator said they were aware of the fire and units were responding.

The Dixie Fire has burned 14 miles northeast through Feather River Canyon and stretches 5 miles northwest from the river.

Map of the Dixie Fire
Map of the Dixie Fire. The white line was the perimeter July 18. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 3:54 a.m. PDT July 19, 2021.

The fire was very active Saturday and Sunday moving to the east and north, becoming well established on the southeast side of the Feather River, mirroring what was happening on the other side of the canyon.

Firefighters are constructing direct fire lines to stop the spread and are building indirect contingency lines to protect the communities at risk. Much of the fire is in steep terrain.

Evacuation orders are in effect for some areas in Plumas and Butte Counties. A map is available, and CAL FIRE has other evacuation information.

Dixie Fire
Dixie Fire as seen from Jarbo Gap, looking northeast at 4:04 p.m. PDT July 19, 2021.

Resources assigned to the Dixie Fire Monday morning included 54 hand crews, 17 helicopters, 110 engines, 29 dozers, and 19 water tenders for a total of 1,918 personnel.

Below is very impressive video of pyrocumulus (the white cloud) forming over the intensely burning Dixie Fire Sunday afternoon.