Six months after the camp fire killed 85 people and destroyed the city of Paradise, residents of the Sierra Nevada communities east of Chico confirmed what had long been suspected: one of the transmission lines of the # 39 aging of PG&E has sparked the fire that has ruined so many lives.
It is a rapid conclusion compared to the 16 months in which the 2017 Tubbs fire survivors waited to receive Cal Fire's much less decisive report in that blaze. After a long process of elimination at a site of origin mostly destroyed by fire, the agency announced at the beginning of the year that the electrical equipment owned by a senior owner of Napa County probably caused the fire of 36,807 acres that burned to the west through the Mayacamas mountains in Santa Rosa, killing 22 people and destroying more than 4,700 homes. The discovery erased PG & E of responsibility and left the Tubbs as the only major fire in the 2017 October fire storm not caused by utility equipment.
Camp and Tubbs focus investigations developed along separate paths, at different rates and reached different conclusions.
There are no standards for fire investigation deadlines because "every fire is different," said Cal Fire spokesman Michael Mohler. He refused to discuss the factors that led to Tubbs fire investigation dragging on concerns that could reveal investigative techniques and prevent the review of the Butte County district attorney's office on Cal Fire findings.
"We don't work from a watch. We work with what we need to do," said Mohler. "Times are never in our programs and each fire poses different challenges".
Wednesday's report on the cause of the fire will not change the course of bankruptcy proceedings for more than 10,000 families requesting compensation from PG&E for the losses suffered in the 2017 and 2018 fires in a newly trained trial supervised by the bankruptcy judge.
"It was a working assumption right from the start that this (the campfire) was a case of PG & E-fault", said Santa Rosa lawyer Roy Miller, who has lost his Wikiup home in Tubbs fire and is part of a legal group that represents about 4,000 families with property losses in the state's main fires. "It is simply the last piece of that puzzle."
The fire of the field of 153.336 acres kicked off November 8 near Pulga, burning eastward into the foothill town and spreading westward into Concow, Paradise, Magalia and the outskirts of eastern Chico. It destroyed 18,804 structures, including nearly 15,000 homes. PG & E's recent estimate has pegged its liabilities from the camp fire to $ 10.5 billion.
Already in November, PG & E's statements and public statements foreshadowed the conclusions of Cal Fire. In a statement on Wednesday, public utility officials said that Cal Fire's determination to start the fire with transmission lines near Pulga "is consistent with the company's previous statements".
In contrast, Cal Fire's findings on Tubbs' fire, announced on January 24, diverged from widely shared assumptions about how it started. These expectations were fueled in part by investigations into other fires in 2017 in which Cal Fire identified the PG & E electrical equipment as a primary ignition source. Separately, PG & E had also notified public utility officials who had equipment in the area of origin of the fire outside Calistoga, which they had failed the moment hell broke.
The agency's determination, set out in an 80-page report, that Bennett Lane's privately owned and maintained electrical equipment triggered Tubbs' fire, shook many of the firestorm survivors and caused pushed the insecurity on the possibility of becoming an isolated group able to obtain compensation from the investor utility for catastrophic losses. Tubbs' fire liabilities were estimated at $ 17 billion.
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