Officials: Camp Fire, deadliest in California history, was caused by PG&E electrical transmission lines


Burned cars and downed power lines are seen along Pearson Road in Paradise, Calif., on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. The Camp Fire is so far the most destructive wildfire in California history. 

DJane Tyska | The Mercury News | Digital First Media | Getty Images

CalFire said Tuesday the catastrophic Camp Fire in November 2018 was caused by electrical transmission lines owned by Pacific Gas & Electric.

In a statement, the state agency said it conducted “a very meticulous and thorough investigation” of the Camp Fire, the deadliest and and most destructive fire in California history. The Camp Fire destroyed most of the town of Paradise, California, and resulted in 85 civilian fatalities and the destruction of more than 18,800 structures.

In February, PG&E said in a regulatory filing that it believed it’s “probable” that the company’s equipment will be found to be the source of the Camp Fire.

CNBC reached out to PG&E for comment.

PG&E, the state’s largest electric utility, filed for bankruptcy protection in late January after getting hit with a flood of lawsuits from devastating wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018, including the Camp Fire in Butte County.

Lawsuits from Camp Fire survivors could take years to resolve and PG&E also could face criminal charges from the blaze. Cal Fire said its investigative report was forwarded to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.

CNBC reached out to Ramsey’s office for comment. 

According to Cal Fire, the cause of the Camp Fire was power lines owned and operated by PG&E in the Pulga area of Butte County.

“The tinder dry vegetation and Red Flag conditions consisting of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures promoted this fire and caused extreme rates of spread, rapidly burning into Pulga to the east and west into Concow, Paradise, Magalia and the outskirts of east Chico,” Cal Fire said.

At the same time, CalFire said its investigators found a second ignition sight for the blaze near the intersection of Concow and Rim roads.

“The cause of the second fire as determined to be vegetation into electrical distribution lines owned and operated by PG&E,” the agency said. “This fire was consumed by the original fire which started earlier near Pulga.”

In California, utilities face liability under what’s known as inverse condemnation as well as for negligence claims for wildfire and other damaging incidents caused by such things as power lines or other utility equipment. PG&E could face liabilities exceeding $20 billion in connection with fires in 2017 and 2018.

Cal Fire previously found PG&E at fault for 17 wine country fires in 2017, including the Redwood Fire, which resulted in nine fatalities. The state agency also found PG&E responsible for the Cascade Fire that killed four in Yuba County in October 2017.

Shares of PG&E fell 1.6% in trading on Tuesday. The stock was down fractionally in after hours trading.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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