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Congressman: 'PG&E Is In A Heap Of Trouble' After Cal Fire Report

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The cause of a dozen Northern California wildfires, some of which were deadly, are now being tied to PG&E.

Cal Fire released its findings on Friday on 12 of the deadly wildfires that ripped through much of Northern California in October.

In eight of those wildfires, Cal Fire says PG&E is in violation of state law, due to things like downed power lines or failed power poles, which investigators say sparked the fires. In the other four cases, Cal Fire says power lines were involved, but mother nature made it impossible to prevent those fires from starting.

Cal Fire Deputy Chief Mike Mohler said, "We know there was some type of violation, or we feel there was some type of violation."

Cal Fire says four of the 12 fires included in its report started by trees falling onto power lines, and appear to have been fueled by Mother Nature, not negligence. The remaining eight, however, show evidence of alleged state law violations by PG&E.

"It could be clearance, it could be equipment failure, it could the non-maintenance of equipment," said Mohler.

According to the Cal Fire, both the Atlas Fire in Napa County and the Pocket Fire in Sonoma County were ignited by defective trees and limbs hitting power lines. Investigators say the other fires were caused by faulty equipment, including a failed power pole and a broken connector causing a downed power line.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Fairfield) said, "PG&E is in a heap of trouble."

Garamendi says while the historic weather may have been out of PG&E's control, it appears the utility broke its obligation to maintain its power lines in a safe way. Now it could be on the hook for millions of dollars and there's fear the expenses could be passed onto ratepayers.

"PG&E has tried to do that in the past. They tried to pass on the cost of their accidents onto consumers, not a good idea. The first place it goes back to is the stockholders to the company itself," said Garamendi.

PG&E released a statement saying in part, "Based on the information we have so far, we continue to believe our overall program's met our state's high standards."

The findings of the eight fires will now be sent to district attorneys in those counties for review, which could result in possible charges. Last month, Cal Fire also determined that PG&E is responsible for three other fires in Nevada and Butte counties last October.

An attorney for many of the fire victims said in a statement Friday, "The blame has been put where it belongs."

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