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Prosecutors investigate PG&E as company admits it may have sparked the Dixie Fire

PG&E equipment has repeatedly been linked to major wildfires, including the 2018 Camp Fire.
Credit: AP
Firefighters spray water from Union Pacific Railroad's fire train while battling the Dixie Fire in Plumas National Forest, Calif., on Friday, July 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

SAN FRANCISCO — Prosecutors launched an investigation into PG&E's involvement in the Dixie Fire, which sparked last week near the same network of PG&E power lines that sparked the deadly 2018 Camp Fire.

Because the fire is burning parts of Plumas and Butte counties, both are involved in the investigation. Butte County prosecutors successfully convicted PG&E of starting the Camp Fire and of 84 felony counts of manslaughter.

PG&E pleaded guilty as charged.

The news came as PG&E reported to the California Public Utilities Commission [CPUC] that its equipment may have been involved in the start of the big Dixie Fire burning in the Sierra Nevada. 

The utility said in a filing Sunday that a repair man responding to a circuit outage on July 13 spotted blown fuses in a conductor atop a pole, a tree leaning into the conductor and fire at the base of the tree. 

PG&E disclosed that it learned of an outage in the area around 7:00 a.m., and looking from the other side of the Feather River, its crews believed a fuse had blown. PG&E crews didn't reach the area until 4:40pm, according to PG&E's report.

PG&E blamed roadwork on a bridge for the delay and did not answer ABC10 when asked why it did not fly from its nearby helipad to inspect the area earlier.

Regardless, investigators told ABC10 they believe the fire didn't begin until the time PG&E crews were on scene that evening. One PG&E employee reportedly tried to put out the first flames on his own.

Unlike in the Camp Fire investigation, PG&E was not allowed to collect the evidence from the scene of the Dixie Fire. Prosecutors, working with CAL FIRE, were able to find a contractor willing to do the job.

The power lines, parts, and sections of the tree laying on it will all be forensically analyzed to determine a sequence of events that led the flames to break out last week.

However, another mystery looms. Interference from an as-yet unidentified drone limited the ability of firefighting aircraft to work on protecting the area by dropping fire retardant the evening of the 13th, investigators said.

The fire escaped overnight and grew into a large fire the next day.

According to Cal Fire's morning report on Monday, July 19, the Dixie Fire has burned just over 30,000 acres. 

PG&E equipment has repeatedly been linked to major wildfires, including the 2018 Camp Fire that ravaged the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. 

PG&E's past wildfire victims took a financial hit from the Dixie Fire news.

Through a trust fund, PG&E's 2015 to 2018 fire victims are 25% owners of the company under a bankruptcy deal brokered by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a move that tethers the victims financial futures to the performance of the company.

PG&E's stock slid nearly 6% during Monday trading, erasing $278 million in value from the trust fund, which was already worth $2 billion less than victims were told when they voted on the deal in bankruptcy court.

Click here to read the full report to the CPUC.

Earlier this year, a PG&E vice president said on-camera that a PG&E power line started the 2019 Kincade Fire, which injured four people and destroyed hundreds of homes in Sonoma County. Cal Fire also said in a report this year the deadly Zogg Fire in 2020 was sparked after a pine tree hit PG&E distribution lines. 

The Dixie Fire is among dozens burning in the parched West. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon.

Read the full Associated Press story HERE

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ABC10’s investigation found California politicians kept taking money from PG&E after the company pleaded guilty to 84 felony manslaughters. Evidence of PG&E’s crimes is beginning to come out and the company faces new criminal investigations for sparking deadly, destructive wildfires.