Megan Goldsby/KCBS Radio

Recordings Reveal Firefighters Looked Into 'Power Line Hazard' As Deadly Fire Exploded

Doug Sovern
November 13, 2018 - 10:47 am
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The California Public Utilities Commission has launched investigations into utility companies PG&E and SoCal Edison as the battle continues against two deadly wildfires now ravaging the state. 

CPUC officials are working with CalFire to see whether utility equipment failures sparked the Camp Fire in Butte County and the Woolsey Fire, which is burning near Simi Valley. Both companies have filed reports with state regulators acknowledging technical problems around the times that the fires ignited. 

Recordings obtained by KCBS Radio from Broadcastify reveal that on Thursday at 6:31 a.m., a CalFire dispatcher sent firefighters to look into a reported outage on a transmission line in Butte County. 

"Looking across under the high tension power lines," the dispatcher said. "There's a power line hazard."

She described the area near Pulga where the emergency had occurred as being "possibly in the area of Camp Creek Road."

The responding firefighter confirmed the high voltage power line was down.

The fire burning below that downed line was spotted by another firefighter.  He described it as still relatively small at this point.

"Probably 10 acres from what I can see and it's got a really good wind on it," he said. The fire was burning in the maintained vegetation below the power lines, but in the crew member's estimation, it was ready to spread into nearby brush and tinder.

"This has got potential for a major incident," he said. 

The fire has since grown to 125,000 acres, destroying nearly 6,800 buildings and killing 42 people..

The crew on the scene attempted to prevent the fire from blowing out of control, requesting 15 additional engines, equipment, strike teams and hand crews.

As the dispatcher sent those engines and ordered air support, the evacuation of Pulga began. A firefighter indicated an engine would be sent into the tiny town.  "We're going to have 21-76 go down into the community of Pulga and evacuate it," he said. 

The woman who owns the largely uninhabited town of Pulga told the Bay Area News Group that PG&E had emailed her the day before the blaze broke out to let her know one of its towers was "sparking" and needed to be fixed.

PG&E has noted that no official cause of the fire has been determined yet.  CalFire has said it will be looking into whether power lines played a role in spreading the flames

SoCal Edison has reported to state utility regulators that there had been an outage on one of its electrical circuits near where the Woolsey Fire broke out last Thursday. The utility said there has been no indication that its equipment may have had anything to do with the start of the fire. According to SoCal Edison's report, the Woolsey fire was reported at approximately 2:24 p.m., two minutes after the outage on a circuit from a substation.

A CPUC spokesman said the agency's investigation will determine whether the utilities complied with applicable rules and regulations. 

Written by Diana Shook