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PG&E reports transmission tower damage near time and location of Camp Fire start

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PG&E reports transmission tower damage near time and location of Camp Fire start

Pacific Gas and Electric Co.. reported one of its employees observed fire near a transmission tower three minutes before California fire authorities said the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state's history started early on Nov. 8.

In a Dec. 11 report to the California Public Utilities Commission, the PG&E Corp. subsidiary, known as PG&E, said that at 6:15 a.m. on Nov. 8 the utility's Caribou-Palermo 115-kV transmission line "relayed and deenergized."

At about 6:30 a.m., a PG&E employee saw fire in the vicinity of a transmission tower, the company identified as "tower :27/222" near Camp Creek Road and Pulga Road, which is about a mile northeast of Pulga, Calif., and called 911. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, reported the Camp Fire started at 6:33 a.m.

That afternoon PG&E said an aerial patrol saw that "a suspension insulator supporting a transposition jumper" had separated from an arm of tower :27/222, though both pieces of equipment remained suspended above the ground.

On Nov. 14, PG&E assisted CAL FIRE in collecting equipment from the tower. PG&E said its employees saw a broken C-hook attached to the separated suspension insulator. The C-hook had connected the suspension insulator to an arm of the tower before the separation. PG&E said it observed wear at the connection point, though the report was unclear as to whether it was referring to the connection point of the suspension insulator or the tower arm.

In addition, PG&E said it observed a flash mark on the tower where a "transposition jumper" was suspended, as well as damage to the transposition jumper and suspension insulator. Also at the tower, an insulator hold down anchor had become disconnected.

PG&E also provided details on a distribution line outage at 6:45 a.m. on Nov. 8 concerning its 12-kV "Big Bend 1101" circuit, where on Nov. 9 a PG&E employee found a pole and other equipment on the ground with bullets and bullet holes at the break point of the pole. On Nov. 12 an employee saw snapped trees on top of downed wires and damaged and downed poles at Cocow Road and Rim Road within the footprint of the Camp Fire.

"The cause of these incidents has not been determined and may not be fully understood until additional information becomes available," PG&E Regulatory Relations Senior Director Meredith Allen wrote in her report to the PUC concerning the transmission line and distribution line incidents.

However, Height Securities LLC analysts concluded malfunctioning PG&E equipment probably caused the fire and that the utility's failure to repair structural deficiencies to its equipment could be construed as negligence in a federal court inquiry.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that sentenced PG&E for violating pipeline safety laws and other crimes as a result of the 2010 San Burno, Calif., pipeline explosion is probing whether reckless operation of utility equipment contributed to the Camp Fire. The court in early 2017 put PG&E on probation, ordering the utility not to commit another crime.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup on Dec. 5 asked the California attorney general's office to advise by Dec. 31 the extent to which, if at all, the reckless operation or maintenance of PG&E power lines would constitute a crime under state law.

The Camp Fire killed 86 people and destroyed 18,793 structures including nearly 14,000 homes and 528 businesses, according to CAL FIRE.