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Southern California Edison questions investigators' conclusions on Thomas Fire

The December 2017 Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in California started in at least two separate places and Southern California Edison Co. said responsibility for the fire will only be determined through a legal process, despite fire investigators' conclusions its wires started the blaze.

The Edison International subsidiary said in a press release it has not determined whether its equipment caused the ignition in the Anlauf Canyon area of Ventura County, Calif., which was the focus of the Ventura County Fire Department's investigative report that concluded SoCalEd was responsible for the fire. SoCalEd said it has evidence that the ignition at Anlauf Canyon started on Dec. 4, 2017, at least 12 minutes prior to any issue involving the utility's equipment and at least 15 minutes before the 6:20 p.m. start time the fire department reported.

The fire department 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 to ignite the fire.

However, SoCalEd said it obtained publicly available radar data showing a smoke plume in the Anlauf Canyon area emerging well in advance of the report's indicated start time of the fire.

SoCalEd said the Anlauf Canyon ignition may have been responsible for a significant portion of the Thomas Fire damages and that the company provided evidence of the earlier start time to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, as well as the Ventura County Fire Department. "However, the [fire investigators'] report does not suggest this evidence was considered," SoCalEd said.

Furthermore, SoCalEd said fire department investigators failed to prevent destruction of physical evidence in the area near the fire's origin and Ventura County failed to preserve video footage from 11 of the county's 12 cameras closest to the fire.

Separately, another ignition point on Dec. 4, 2017, was near Koenigstein Road in the city of Santa Paula in Ventura County, the utility said. According to the fire department's report, the blaze started in two spots and eventually merged to become the Thomas Fire.

The company previously disclosed that its equipment appears to have been associated with the Koenigstein ignition. Yet, the specific cause of what started the fire near Koenigstein Road cannot be determined until SoCalEd said it can analyze equipment currently in CAL FIRE's possession and any other evidence that may be described in a separate report relating to the Koenigstein ignition, which has not yet been issued.

The Thomas Fire resulted in the deaths of one civilian and one firefighter, destroyed 1,063 structures and burned 281,893 acres.

The fire investigators' report did not appear to have appreciably impacted Edison International's stock price, which was largely unchanged in trading March 14 on the New York Stock Exchange.