Pacific Gas & Electric told state regulators July 18 that its equipment may have sparked another massive wildfire, this time the ongoing Dixie Fire in the remote Feather River Canyon in Butte and Plumas counties. It started early last week, has burned 60,000 acres, and was only 15% contained as of Tuesday, according to CalFire.
Responding to a report of an outage early on July 13, a PG&E worker discovered a tree leaning on an overhead 12kV distribution circuit. Two of the three fuses on the pole were blown, and a fire was burning at the bottom of the tree, according to a Sunday filing at the California Public Utilities Commission. The worker removed the third fuse and reported the fire to CalFire
The utility filing is preliminary and was made “in an abundance of caution,” spokesperson Paul Moreno said.
“CPUC staff is investigating whether PG&E electric facilities comply with applicable rules and regulations,” Terrie Prosper, CPUC spokesperson, told Current July 20. Either CalFire or the local fire district determines the source of ignition of a wildfire and how a fire spreads, she added.
PG&E electric equipment has sparked a worrisome number of large blazes in recent years. Most devastating was the Paradise Fire in 2018 that destroyed the town and killed 85 people. PG&E equipment also ignited the Kincaid Fire in Geyserville in the fall of 2019, and the Zogg Fire in Shasta County last year.
The utility pled guilty to 84 manslaughter counts for the Paradise Fire. State regulators voted unanimously May 7, 2020, to have PG&E’s shareholders pay nearly $2 billion for 15 fires utility equipment sparked in 2017 and 2018.
The Zogg Fire started Sept. 26, 2020, killed four people, and torched 56,000 acres during the nearly two weeks it burned. PG&E earnings for the fourth quarter of 2020 were cut by $275 million because of the wildfire liability.
In April, the Sonoma County district attorney charged PG&E with five felony counts and 28 misdemeanors for sparking the Kincaid Fire. It started in late October 2019, destroyed 374 structures, and burned nearly 78,000 acres. PG&E reached a $43 million settlementwith Sonoma and Shasta counties and other agencies and affected cities to resolve wildfire civil claims the next month.
The company’s stock price has fallen 85% over the last five years. Its Tuesday stock price ranged between $9.16 and $9.54.