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SCE cites proximity of utility equipment to Saddle Ridge fire

Southern California Edison Co. filed a confidential report Oct. 11 with the California Public Utilities Commission, notifying regulators of an electric incident that occurred the previous day around the reported time of the Saddle Ridge brush fire in northwest Los Angeles.

"Out of an abundance of caution we notified the CPUC on Friday, Oct. 11, that our system was impacted near the reported time of fire," SCE spokeswoman Susan Cox said, reading from a prepared statement.

The fire started on Oct. 10 around 9 p.m. at Saddle Ridge Road and Yarnell Street in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles and spread westward during a period of high winds and low humidity, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.

The Los Angeles Fire Department early on Oct. 14 reported one fatality due to a heart attack and three minor injuries to fire personnel related to the Saddle Ridge fire. By then the blaze had burned nearly 8,000 acres, destroyed 17 structures, damaged 58 other structures and was still only half contained, but all evacuations were lifted.

PUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said electric utilities must report to the commission incidents that meet any of the criteria including a fatality or injury involving electric facilities, damage to property exceeding $50,000, significant media coverage or a major outage to at least 10% of a utility's service area.

"Southern California Edison has filed such a report. The report is considered confidential and is not publicly available at this time," Prosper said.

Before the Saddle Ridge fire started, the Edison International subsidiary had cut off power to about 21,000 customers in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Ventura and Riverside counties as a proactive measure to avoid energized lines from falling or being damaged due to high winds and igniting tinder dry vegetation. At one point SCE said it might have to cut power to 223,000 customers, but with improving conditions, it reduced that number to less than half. By Oct. 14, only four customers in Los Angeles County were without service.

Meanwhile, PG&E Corp. subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co., or PG&E, completed power restoration to the 738,000 customers to whom it disconnected service beginning early Oct. 9 because of high winds and dry conditions.

PG&E ordered to fix shutoff management process

PUC President Marybel Batjer in a letter on Oct. 14 ordered PG&E to take many immediate corrective actions to its communications, coordination activities and management of future proactive power shutoffs following the previous week's shutoffs.

"Failures in execution, combined with the magnitude of this PSPS [public safety power shutoff] event, created an unacceptable situation that should never be repeated," Batjer said in her letter to PG&E Corp. CEO William Johnson.

Johnson has admitted problems with overloaded call centers, a repeatedly crashing website and inaccurate maps of outage areas. "Quite simply, we were not adequately prepared to support the operation and this will improve," the CEO said during an Oct. 10 press conference.