Utility Equipment Sparked 2018 Woolsey Fire in California

Southern California Edison equipment identified in report

 

The Woolsey Fire burns a home near Malibu Lake in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A fast-moving wildfire in Southern California has forced numerous celebrities to join the thousands fleeing flames that have claimed homes and prompted the total evacuation of the celebrity enclave Malibu. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A 2018 wildfire that killed three people and destroyed 1,600 homes was sparked by Southern California Edison equipment, according to a report by investigators released this week as the utility said it was looking into whether its power lines may have cause a huge blaze still smoldering Friday south of Los Angeles.

A redacted version of the Woolsey Fire investigation report obtained by the Ventura County Star concludes Edison equipment associated with an electrical circuit was the cause of the blaze two years ago northwest of Los Angeles.

Edison said in October 2019 that its equipment was likely the cause, and the report further supports that claim.

Under strong winds, a guy wire on a steel pole arced and connected with an energized conductor, causing “heated material” to fall on the vegetation down below, the documents state.

A “communication line” was also hooked up to that steel pole, and it became energized by the incident. A second fire was reported about a quarter of a mile away underneath the communication line, according to the documents.

The Star’s reporting on Thursday came as Edison was investigating whether its equipment caused the Silverado Fire that broke out earlier this week in hills near Irvine. According to Edison’s report to utility regulators, a “lashing wire” that ties a telecommunications line to a supporting cable may have come into contact with a separate 12,000-volt conductor line above it.

The Silverado Fire and another blaze just to the north, the Blue Ridge Fire, spurred the evacuation of 130,000 people in Orange County. All evacuation orders were lifted Thursday and firefighters were making significant progress against the twin blazes. Two firefighters suffered serious burns and at least 17 buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The release of the full investigation report into the Woolsey Fire has been delayed by a criminal investigation by the California Attorney General’s Office.

However, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Highberger said the criminal probe no longer outweighed the public’s right to know what happened. He issued a ruling earlier this month stating that the redacted report being used by attorneys in the dozens of lawsuits over the fire was no longer confidential, the newspaper reported.

The enormous Woolsey Fire torched homes in Thousand Oaks, Calabasas and Malibu as it burned across the Santa Monica Mountains all the way to the coast.

In a statement Wednesday, Edison spokesman Chris Abel said the utility company fully cooperated with investigators and “shared the conclusion of Ventura County Fire Department’s redacted Woolsey report.”

Absent any additional evidence, the company still claims it’s likely that its equipment was associated with the start of the blaze.

However, cause or causes of the Woolsey Fire can’t be determined by Edison until its investigators can look at the evidence collected by officials. That evidence is in the possession of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Abel said.

Investigators collected metal shavings, melted plastic, guy wire and other items, the report states.

Without admitting wrongdoing or liability, Edison has settled with the public agencies that sued the utility, agreeing to pay $210 million to the public agencies.

The state attorney general’s office would not immediately comment on the release of the redacted report.

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