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Regional Interests

PG&E Says It Found Broken Power Lines Near Where Fresno County Fire Started

A Pacific Gas & Electric report filed with the California Public Utilities Commission this week says the utility’s downed power lines were found near where a wildfire touched off last month in Fresno County.

The Blue Fire burned a few hundred acres in the Sierra National Forest in late June, northeast of Fresno, near an area still recovering from last year’s Creek Fire — the largest single incident fire in California history.

According to the utility’s report filed with the Commission on July 5th, the U.S. Forest Service asked PG&E to collect some of its equipment in the area of the Blue Fire. Utility crews noticed a tall tree had fallen onto power lines and tumbled downhill.

“PG&E crews assisted the USFS, which collected and retained PG&E equipment including conductor and crossarms,” the report says. It’s unclear if the tree fell before or after the fire started.

Forest Service officials are investigating and have not yet announced an official cause of the fire.

State regulators require that utilities like PG&E report if their equipment could have been involved in a fire that resulted in damage, death, hospitalizations or — as is the case with this report — drew significant media attention.

“In this environment, when you have repeated wildfires and repeated incidents where utility equipment is involved in fires, the utilities need to maintain an open line of communication with the regulators,” said Steven Weissman, a UC Berkeley public policy professor and former administrative law judge at the CPUC.  “They all are responsible — in one extent or another — to make sure that these fire risks are minimized.”

The utility says the report is “preliminary” and will fully cooperate with any investigations. “The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is PG&E’s most important responsibility,” Lynsey Paulo, a spokesperson, told KQED in an emailed statement.

The report was filed nearly one year to the day that PG&E emerged from a contentious, years-long bankruptcy saga that began after its power grid ignited deadly wildfires.

Copyright 2021 KQED