PG&E Power Company May Have Caused Butte Fire

JOSH EDELSON, Getty Images
JOSH EDELSON, Getty Images

On Wednesday, an executive with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) acknowledged that the Butte Fire, which has ravaged almost 72,000 acres in Amador and Calaveras Counties, may have been triggered by one of the company’s power lines sparking a tree into flames.

Barry Anderson, PG&E’s vice-president of Emergency Preparedness and Operations, stated, “While we don’t have all the facts yet, a live tree may have contacted a PG&E line in the vicinity of the ignition point. … We are cooperating fully with Cal Fire in an investigation of whether this could have been a source of ignition for the Butte Fire.” He added, “We are reviewing our inspection and patrol data for 2014 and 2015 for the area near this tree,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

On Wednesday, Calaveras County authorities stated that two victims who refused to obey evacuation orders died as a result of the blaze: Mark McCloud, 67, found near his home on Baker Riley Road, and a man identified by coroner Kevin Raggio as an elderly man who died in his home.

In 1997, PG&E was found guilty of 739 counts of negligence for its tree-trimming violations that precipitated a 1994 fire near Rough and Ready that burned down a schoolhouse and 12 homes.

Anderson protested that the company has been more vigilant about its power lines, stating:

Since June, we have been conducting daily air patrols along sections of major electric lines to look for hazards that could spark wildfires. We have provided $2 million in funding to local fire safe councils for fire fuel reduction, emergency access projects and public education. We have provided funding for lookout towers and cameras for early fire detection. 

Elizaveta Malashenko, head of the Safety and Enforcement Division of the California Public Utilities Commission, told the Chronicle that Cal Fire believes the Butte Fire started with a specific tree. She said, “PG&E informed me that Cal Fire has the tree in question and the (power line) conductor.”

Governor Jerry Brown warned utilities in 2014 “to take measures to reduce the likelihood of fires associated with or threatening their facilities.”

The fire, which was declared 49% contained on Wednesday, ravaged 233 homes, according to Cal Fire:


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