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Calif. fire agency confirms SoCalEd wires caused December 2017 wildfire

California fire officials confirmed Southern California Edison Co.'s earlier conclusion that its power lines were involved in the December 2017 Thomas Fire.

Fire investigators concluded high winds caused the lines to come into contact with each other, and a resulting electric arc caused molten aluminum particles to drop onto dry grass and brush, according to a report the Ventura County, Calif., Fire Department released March 13.

Pedo Pizarro, CEO of SoCalEd's parent company, Edison International, said during an Oct. 30, 2018, earnings call the utility's equipment played a role in the blaze. The fire department said the fire burned 281,893 acres, killed two people and destroyed 1,063 structures.

The fire started at 6:20 p.m. on Dec. 4, 2017, and burned for nearly 40 days, threatening the cities of Santa Paula, Ventura, Ojai and Fillmore, as well as many unincorporated communities, before moving into Santa Barbara County. At one point nearly 9,000 emergency personnel were involved in fighting the fire or otherwise responding to it, including emergency response workers from across the Western U.S.

Ventura County fire investigators immediately began work to determine the fire's origin and cause and an investigative team also included the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, the U.S. Forest Service, Santa Barbara County Fire Department and Ventura County Sheriff's Office.

The fire started near 16840 Anlauf Canyon Road, Santa Paula, Calif., about a half mile back in Anlauf Canyon on a cattle ranch on a southwest slope near a small ridge top, according to the fire investigation report. Santa Ana wind gusts were reported up to 80 miles per hour under clear skies with no lightning. Phase-to-phase contact, or slapping of line against line, was reported on several spans of power lines.

Ventura County Fire Capt. Stan Ziegler said March 13 that the report is the result of a collaborative 14-month investigative effort of these agencies and that none of the other agencies will release separate reports. Ventura County was the lead agency in the investigation and as such took the lead in compiling the report, but all the agencies reviewed and approved it.

While the report opens by citing penal codes for recklessly setting fires and other matters, it does not imply that SoCalEd violated any ordinances or laws, Ziegler said. These codes are routinely put in all fire investigative reports, he said.