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Cal Fire Blames 12 NorCal Wildfires On PG&E Power Lines, Equipment Failures

(CBS SF) -- Pacific Gas and Electric power lines and equipment failure are to blame for 12 of the catastrophic Northern California wildfires started in October 2017, according to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The 2017 wildfire siege killed at least 44 people and destroyed about 9,000 structures. The fires burned at least 245,000 acres across Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and other Northern California counties,

Two of the 12 wildfires cited killed 15 people. Cal Fire announced Friday that investigators determined the 12 fires were caused by electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles. In most cases, the cause was blamed on tree limbs coming into contact with power lines. In other instances, power conductors or other equipment toppling onto the ground sparked the fires, according to Cal Fire.

Cal Fire said the 12 fires involving PG&E equipment were:

Redwood Fire, Mendocino County - tree or parts of trees falling onto PG&E power lines
Sulphur Fire, Lake County - power pole failure; power lines and equipment coming in contact with the ground
Cherokee Fire, Butte County - tree limbs coming into contact with PG&E power lines
37 Fire, Sonoma County - electrical; associated with the PG&E distribution lines in area
Blue Fire, Humboldt County - power line conductor separates from connector, falling to ground
Norrbom Fire, Sonoma, Napa Counties - tree falling onto power lines
Adobe Fire, Sonoma, Napa Counties - tree falling onto power line
Patrick Fire, Sonoma, Napa Counties - tree falling onto power line
Pythian Fire, Sonoma, Napa Counties - downed powerline
Nuns Fire, Sonoma, Napa Counties - part of tree breaking, contacting power line
Pocket Fire, Sonoma County - part of tree breaking, contacting power line
Atlas Fire - Napa County - large tree limb, tree falling onto power line in separate locations

North Bay Wildfires MapThe investigation into the cause of the Tubbs Fire, in which 22 people were killed in Napa and Sonoma counties, has not yet been completed, Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott A. McLean said.

The agency said in eight of the 12 wildfires – Sulphur, Blue, Norrbom, Partrick, Pythian, Adobe, Pocket and Atlas – the investigations have been referred to the county District Attorneys' offices for review due to evidence of alleged violations of state law.

State Senator Bill Dodd of Napa released a statement demanding answers.

"I'm calling on PG&E, utilities across the state, and the public utilities commission to step up and ensure they are meeting their legal obligations to maintain power lines in a safe manner, the statement read. "It's inexcusable and it can't be allowed to happen again."

In a statement, PG&E said in part, "The loss of life, homes and businesses in these extraordinary wildfires is simply heartbreaking, and we remain focused on helping communities recover and rebuild. We look forward to the opportunity to carefully review the CAL FIRE reports to understand the agency's perspectives. Based on the information we have so far, we continue to believe our overall programs met our state's high standards."

In May, Cal Fire said PG&E power lines coming into contact with trees caused four other Northern California wildfires in rural Butte and Nevada counties last October that burned across more than 14 square miles and incinerated 134 buildings.

Cal Fire indicated three of the fires might have been prevented if PG&E had made more effort to keep trees clear of its power lines and turned those findings over to local prosecutors.

At the time, PG&E said in a statement: "Based on the information we have so far, we believe our overall programs met our state's high standards." The utility also said at the time it inspects and monitors every overhead electric transmission and distribution line at least once a year under its Vegetation Management Program.

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