In the first results of its investigation into the firestorms that erupted across Northern California last October, Cal Fire said Friday that PG&E allegedly failed to remove or trim trees next to power lines that sparked three wildfires in Butte and Nevada counties last fall.

Cal Fire said its investigators found evidence in both counties that PG&E violated state code requiring utilities to maintain adequate clearance between power lines and vegetation.

PG&E said it looked forward to reviewing the findings. “Based on the information we have so far, we believe our overall programs met our state’s high standards,” the company said in a statement.

Cal Fire has not released the results of its investigation into the cause of the massive wildfires that exploded Oct. 8 in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties. The fires killed 40 people, destroyed almost 6,200 homes and triggered more than $9.5 billion in insured claims in the North Bay.

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By Molly Casey | KSBY

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) wants to change the law so privately-owned utilities, like itself, are no longer held financially responsible for damage caused by wildfires. 

The North Bay fires that broke out in October destroyed thousands of homes and killed more than 40 people in northern California wine country.

More than $9 billion dollars in insurance claims have been filed since the fires. 

While CAL FIRE investigators have not yet released the official causes if the 19 fires, lawsuits against PG&E are piling up, with plaintiffs claiming the company’s power lines and other equipment sparked at least some of the fires.

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JULIE JOHNSON | THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | February 3, 2018, 8:45PM

Santa Rosa city fire investigators have determined that PG&E power lines buffeted by heavy winds the night of Oct. 8 ignited at least two small fires in city neighborhoods, marking the first public reports by government authorities into what caused some of the dozens of blazes that erupted that night and became the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in California history.

The findings, outlined in records obtained by The Press Democrat, focus on two smaller, lesser-known fires that burned separately from the large blazes that swept across the North Bay late Oct 8. and early Oct. 9, destroying 6,200 homes and claiming 40 lives.

In both cases — a fire that destroyed two homes on Sullivan Way near Howarth Park and another quarter-acre fire that damaged an outbuilding at a Montessori school on Brush Creek Road — investigators with the Santa Rosa Fire Department ruled that strong winds caused the PG&E’s power lines to arc, throw sparks and set fire to dry vegetation.

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PAUL PAYNE | THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | January 30, 2018, 6:53PM

Sonoma County officials said Tuesday that they will sue PG&E over the October wildfires, becoming the first government entity to take on the utility giant over its alleged role in the historic infernos.

The county is seeking in its planned lawsuit tens of millions of dollars in damages to clear debris, rebuild infrastructure and develop safety measures to prevent future disasters.

The move came about a month after the Board of Supervisors hired a group of private attorneys to represent them at a hearing to consolidate more than 100 similar suits from burned-out residents under a single San Francisco judge.

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San Francisco Chronicle | By Joaquin Palomino and David R. Baker

Just before 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 8, a tree branch fell into a power line in the town of Kenwood east of Santa Rosa as sparks were scattered by heavy winds. Local emergency officials contacted Pacific Gas and Electric Co., asking the utility to immediately evaluate the damage because of the evening’s dangerous fire conditions.

It was one of the first reported electrical disturbances in Sonoma County the night that numerous fires erupted across the North Bay, and would prove a harbinger of things to come.

As the night progressed, county dispatchers recorded 111 fire and medical emergencies, from a thick smell of smoke near the coast to flames scorching a creek trail in central Santa Rosa. Nearly half of those incidents mentioned downed or sparking power lines, blown transformers or other concerns with PG&E’s equipment, a Chronicle review of dispatch logs shows.

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State regulators have released previously withheld details in reports filed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. revealing the exact location of damaged transmission equipment found near the ignition points of the wildfires that ravaged Sonoma and Napa counties in October.

The documents — including the precise address and specific types of damaged equipment — provide new information about the proximity of PG&E equipment to the origins of the deadly Oct. 8 fires.
Cal Fire officials say their investigation is not complete, and PG&E officials stressed no causes of the fires have been identified. Nevertheless, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against PG&E alleging the fires were sparked when gale force winds sent overgrown tree limbs crashing into powerlines.

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While the Pacific Northwest is enjoying benign, moist weather, strong winds continue to hit California.  For example, here are the maximum gusts above 35 mph) for the 24-h ending 9 AM this morning (Sunday).  A number of locations both in central/northern and southern CA hit that threshold, with several exceeding 50 mph (red colors)

Southern California is particularly impressive, with 50-70 mph gusts observed both east and west of LA.  LA itself is somewhat protected by the higher section of the San Gabriel mountains.

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Associated Press | SAN FRANCISCO — Devastating California wildfires this year — and expectations of more to come under the extremes of climate change — prompted regulators Thursday to toughen rules for utility companies to keep power lines clear of brush and tree branches that can easily spark into flames.

Public Utilities Commission president Michael Picker called the regulations adopted unanimously by the board “a major rewrite” of the state’s fire-prevention rules for utilities as climate change drives up wildfire risks in much of California.

In a year when the state’s fire season threatens to go year-round, state officials “accept and acknowledge that the scope of the problem is changing,’ Picker said.

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A tug-of-war is brewing over whether Sonoma County or San Francisco courts should handle the thousands of wildfire lawsuits expected to emerge against PG&E.

Lawyers representing one group of plaintiffs argue San Francisco is a better venue because the court is larger and has the administrative capacity for more complex cases. They have petitioned the California Judicial Council to appoint one San Francisco judge to oversee all pretrial matters including depositions, hearings and evidence disputes.

But other lawyers seeking damages against PG&E say the cases belong in Sonoma County where the fires charred about 100,000 acres, destroyed 4,000 homes and killed 23 people. They are seeking to block a move across the Golden Gate to PG&E’s headquarters city with their own Judicial Council motion.

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