According to the October 17, 2017, Press Democrat, “The explosive failure of power lines and other electrical equipment has regularly ranked among the top three singular sources of California wildfires for the last several years.” For example, “In 2015, the last year of reported data, electrical power problems sparked the burning of 149,241 acres- more than twice the amount from any other cause.”
The above data does not include the October 2017 fires which more than double these tragic losses. Electric lines are the single most dangerous fire risk to our communities and families in California. The known risks of electric lines have been known since the dawn of powerlines in the early part of the last century.
There are a number of sources of fire ignition from powerlines and equipment. First, consider the known risk of fire from the drought for the last 5 years. We have seen other fires before the October 2017 fires since the drought began, so the added and increased danger these last few years was a foreseeable and known danger.
If a power pole is not properly maintained, they can collapse in winds or if struck by a tree. This results in a live power line going to the ground which creates a known fire danger. If a tree falls into wires and either causes wires to cross or causes lines to be knocked to the ground, then this will also create a known fire danger. A tree limb can also fall across power lines causing them to break or cross and create the same fire risk. Trees can also fall into transformers and cause damage which results in fire danger.
The above-known fire risks will be increased in drought conditions and if a utility fails to clear the trees, brush and ‘fuel’ under the powerlines, this will also increase the risk of a fire taking hold. A utility can be responsible for failing to maintain trees or failing to clear the fuel source under the lines.
There can also be an increased fire risk if power lines are not de-energized as soon as they fall. A conductor or line on the ground with no power reduces or eliminates the fire risk. There is also some equipment which can surge power to a downed line, and such equipment can also cause fires. Fire danger is a known risk of downed power lines and electrical equipment.
The California PUC regulates utilities to attempt to reduce fire risks. In addition to the CPUC rules, there are other laws in California which require utilities to reduce or eliminate fire risks.
* This information is provided to supply relevant information concerning the PG&E lawsuits, and should not be received as legal advice. If you are already represented by legal counsel please rely upon them for information and advice. No guarantees or representations about the success of the PG&E lawsuits can be drawn from this information.