PG&E Corp. told California regulators that its power equipment might have contributed to igniting a recent wildfire that has killed four people.
The utility disclosed in securities filings that it notified the California Public Utilities Commission on Friday it had recorded alarms on certain equipment supporting a power line that served an area east of Redding, Calif., where the Zogg Fire is believed to have originated in Shasta County, near Oregon.
The fire has burned more than 56,000 acres and destroyed 204 structures since it started late last month, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The blaze, which forced evacuations in the area, was almost fully contained as of Friday, according to Cal Fire.
PG&E said state fire investigators have taken possession of some of its equipment as part of their probe into the cause of the fire. The company said the information is preliminary and that it has no information about the cause of the fire. It said it doesn’t have access to Cal Fire evidence and that it is cooperating with the investigation.
“We recognize the tragic losses sustained as a result of this year’s fire season and are thankful as always for the efforts of the first responders who have worked tirelessly to contain the fires and protect the lives and property of California residents,” the company said.
If PG&E’s equipment is found responsible for the fire, it could face substantial liability-related costs just months after emerging from bankruptcy. The company sought chapter 11 protection in January 2019 as it grappled with billions of dollars in wildfire-related liability costs. The company’s equipment sparked a series of destructive wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that collectively killed more than 100 people and burned more than 15,000 homes in Northern California.
PG&E has been working to make its electric grid safer and trim trees away from power lines to reduce the risk of its equipment sparking more wildfires. The company has resorted to pre-emptively shutting off power when wind speeds pick up, which raises fire risks.
California has suffered an unprecedented spate of wildfires this year. More than 3.8 million acres have been scorched by a total of more than 8,100 fires, according to Cal Fire. Since mid-August, at least 29 people have died.
Severe weather conditions have given rise to the blazes in California and across the western U.S., with record-setting heat, gusty winds and dry vegetation fueling fast-spreading blazes. Scientists say the most significant causes are poor forest management and climate change, which causes higher temperatures and longer droughts.
Write to Katherine Blunt at [email protected]
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