A report released Monday by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has found that a lack of power line maintenance by PG&E was the main cause of the 2018 Camp Fire.
The report narrowed down the specific neglected area to the Caribou-Palermo line. While the line had been inspected from the air and the ground, a close inspection requiring a worker to climb up a pole to inspect the line had not been done in nearly two decades. According to the CPUC, the last time a crucial climb up inspection was made was in 2001 or before.
The Caribou-Palermo line was actually faulty and needed to be repaired or replaced, but due to only faraway inspections, this wasn’t done. On November 8, 2018, the line sparked due to its condition, starting the Camp Fire. Another faulty line that was at a lower voltage also sparked, adding to the fire.
The Camp Fire would end up devastating the community of Paradise, killing 85 people and destroying thousands of homes. Smoke from the fire reached as far away as San Francisco.
PG&E was hit hard in the wake of the disaster. It is currently liable for damages in the tens of billions of dollars, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization because of the liabilities against them, and has been criticized by lawmakers and citizens for instituting power shutoffs throughout Northern California in an attempt to prevent forest fires due to the conditions of many of the power lines.
Millions more have suffered due to having no phone or power access, resulting in cities such as San Jose to threaten to create their own electric power company away from PG&E, and the state threatening to take over PG&E by June if it doesn’t get out of bankruptcy.
While naming PG&E at fault for not properly maintaining or inspecting their power lines was expected, the news of how frequent close inspections were made was surprising to many.
“The identified shortcomings in PG&E’s inspection and maintenance of the incident tower were not isolated, but rather indicative of an overall pattern of inadequate inspection and maintenance of PG&E’s transmission facilities,” said CPUC investigators.
With PG&E currently in bankruptcy in San Francisco, the findings by CPUC only adds to the mountains of evidence against PG&E acting in a responsible way.