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Deadly fire that leveled Paradise caused by PG&E power lines, investigators conclude

Cal Fire has determined that the Camp Fire in Butte County, California was caused by PG&E power lines — a conclusion long suspected, but not confirmed.

Posted: May 15, 2019 1:57 PM
Updated: May 15, 2019 2:31 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The deadly wildfire that all but destroyed several small towns in California last year was caused by PG&E power lines, Cal Fire investigators have concluded.

The Camp Fire began on the morning of November 8, 2018. Flames spread so quickly that the primary route leading from the town of Paradise quickly became clogged with the vehicles of evacuees fleeing the area. Many people were forced to drive through a gauntlet of fire as the wildfire spread.

Ultimately, 85 people were confirmed dead from the fire. Flames consumed more than 150,000 acres of land and destroyed more than 18,800 structures. Several firefighters were injured during the response.

"The Camp Fire is the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history," Cal Fire said in a statement on Wednesday.

An investigation into the cause of the fire began almost immediately, with suspicion soon falling on power equipment operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). Now investigators have made their conclusion.

"After a very meticulous and thorough investigation, CAL FIRE has determined that the Camp Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity (PG&E) located in the Pulga area," the agency said.

When the fire began at those Pulga power lines, fire driven by strong winds quickly spread through dry grass and brush under "Red Flag" conditions. The fire spread through Pulga into the communities of Concow, Paradise, Magalia, and the outskirts of east Chico.

"The investigation identified a second ignition sight near the intersection of Concow Rd. and Rim Rd. The cause of the second fire was determined to be vegetation into electrical distribution lines owned and operated by PG&E. This fire was consumed by the original fire which started earlier near Pulga," Cal Fire said.

The full Camp Fire investigative report has been forwarded to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, Cal Fire concluded.

PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year, and the fate of the company remains uncertain. It faces lawsuits and significant damages from multiple wildfires, not the Camp Fire alone.

NewsWatch 12 sent a reporter to Butte County last year as firefighters from Southern Oregon headed down to help combat the Camp Fire and work on sifting through the wreckage.

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