San Diego Gas & Electric violated transmission safety regulations, triggering two devastating wild fires in San Diego County last fall, concluded California Public Utilities Commission investigators September 2. Specifically, the commission staff report said that SDG&E failed to have proper clearance between two lines that arced during strong Santa Ana winds. That was blamed for igniting the Witch fire October 21, 2007, which caused loss of life, injuries, and burned more than a thousand homes. Had their been 24 inches between the power lines as called for under commission rules, the report said that the 50 mile per hour winds would not have caused sparks. The winds were not unusual, the report observed, and lines should be able to operate safely in such weather conditions. The commission\u2019s report \u201cis full of speculation and faulty conclusions, with sparse evidence--if any--to support its claims,\u201d SDG&E stated. The long-awaited CPUC report, however, echoes the findings of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, released earlier this summer. \u201cIt boils down to inspection and maintenance being the responsibility of the utility company,\u201d said CAL FIRE spokesperson Janet Upton. San Diego city attorney Michael Aguirre faulted SDG&E for trying to \u201cstone wall\u201d the investigators. \u201cSDG&E has pursued an overall approach that is not viable,\u201d said Aguirre, complaining that the company has not recognized environmental limits, including drought and tinder box conditions. \u201cSan Diego wants to work with SDG&E to make their system less dangerous when it comes to fires.\u201d SDG&E, also failed to trim a tree branch that fell on lines in another location, causing them to break and ignite the Rice Fire, the investigative report said. The branch fell after an inspection months before the fires found it was rotten, according to Mahmoud Intably, CPUC utilities engineer in the Consumer Protection and Safety Division. Following the fire, the company had its tree trimming contractor reduce the size of the sycamore tree so that it was lower than the height of the electric lines, according to Intably. The contractor, Davey Tree, cut the tree \u201cto a level below the assumed height of the wire\u201d at the direction of an SDG&E utility forester, Intably wrote in his report. Intably also said that SDG&E personnel refused to answer his questions early in the investigation. A third, fire, the report found, was caused by the failure of a Cox Communications lashing for its cable television system that contacted an SDG&E wire in the Santa Ana winds, sparking the Guejito Fire. SDG&E said the CPUC has \u201cno facts\u201d to show that the power lines implicated in the Witch Fire \u201cwere out of compliance.\u201d It further said that \u201cthird-party witnesses\u201d deemed the sycamore tree to be in compliance with vegetation clearance requirements in late October just before the fire. The company added that once power was restored in the aftermath of the fires, it made its personnel available for interviews in the investigation. City attorney Aguirre filed suit against SDG&E earlier this summer seeking recovery for damages to city property from the fires, as well as recovery of firefighting expenses. His suit came just before CAL FIRE found that SDG&E power lines sparked the three major wildfires last fall in San Diego County. Combined they burned more than 200,000 acres. The Witch Fire burned 197,990 acres, killed two civilians, and injured 40 firefighters. According to the state, it burned down 1,141 homes, 509 outbuildings, and 239 vehicles. The Guejito Fire, which merged with the massive Witch fire, damaged an additional 75 homes and 25 outbuildings. The smaller 9,472 acre Rice Fire burned down 206 homes, two commercial properties, and 40 outbuildings. Residents affected by the wildfires are suing SDG&E for damages. The commission now is to review its staff report, which recommends it further investigate SDG&E\u2019s role in the fires and consider ordering it to streamline its vegetation management program and remediate inadequate clearances along its lines. Numerous locations may have inadequate clearance, the CPUC staff report said. The report also said that lashings used by cable television companies that run their cables along electric poles may pose a problem that should be examined on a wide scale.