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Lawmakers Look at PG&E Test Equipment as Possible Cause of Wine Country Fires

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- According to documents obtained by KPIX, state lawmakers are investigating a piece of PG&E equipment known as a "recloser" as a possible cause of the devastating, deady Wine Country fires in October.

More than a dozen wildfires broke out overnight on Oct. 8.

As swirling winds swept across Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino county mountains and valleys.

A Power Line 'Recloser' Device
A power transmission line "recloser." (Via YouTube)

Reclosers send a pulse of electricity through a power line to determine if it is malfunctioning. If no problem is detected, the line is energized and power flows as normal to homes and businesses.

The downside: if a severed power line is in contact with a tree or the ground, that temporary surge of electricity can spark a fire.

PG&E acknowledges this in a letter sent to state senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo).

The letter states: "While, as a general matter, PG&E believes that reclosing technology improves both reliability and safety, under certain circumstances, reclosing has the potential for wildfire risk."

The power company has the capability of shutting off reclosers in fire-prone areas but it says only three reclosers were shut down in Napa and Sonoma.

There is still no official cause of the North Bay wildfires but legislators believe they may have identified a potential culprit.

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