Power utility says its equipment may have sparked Calif. wildfire

A California utility company has acknowledged that its equipment was responsible for starting the second largest wildfire in the state’s modern history.

Southern California Edison said Tuesday that witnesses saw a fire igniting near one of the company’s power poles in Santa Paula and it believes its equipment was linked to the ignition.

The incident took place at one of two different sites where the company says the Thomas Fire started.

The second starting point was the Anlauf Canyon area of Ventura County but it’s unclear if any of the company’s equipment was directly involved, SCE said in a statement.

The company did not discuss the exact timing of any of those incidents.

The Thomas Fire started December 4, 2017 and burned through 281,893 acres in parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

It killed two people, including 32-year-old Cory Iverson, an engineer with Cal Fire who was battling the blaze.

The fire consumed more than 1,000 structures throughout Southern California before it was completely contained on January 12.

In the statement, SCE said it has not inspected its equipment because the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection — also known as Cal Fire — removed it because of the agency’s investigation.

SCE said it will not be able to analyze what happened at the ignition points until it can take a look at the equipment.

The company also said it is conducting a “complex” internal review of the Thomas Fire that “examines various matters including possible ignition points, the location of those ignition points, the fire progression from each ignition point and the attribution of damages to fires with separate ignition points.”

In a financial filing also made public on Tuesday, SCE officials indicate they aware of at least 102 lawsuits related to the Thomas Fire that name the company as a defendant.

“The extent of potential liability for December 2017 Wildfire-related damages depends on a number of factors, including whether SCE substantially caused, or contributed to, the damages and whether parties seeking recovery of damages will be required to show negligence in addition to causation,” the company said in the filing.

The lawsuits were filed in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties. The allegations include “negligence, inverse condemnation, trespass, private nuisance, and violations of the public utilities and health and safety codes.”

The Thomas Fire is considered the second largest wildfire in California’s modern history. Its size was the equivalent of more than Dallas and Miami combined. The Mendocino complex fire became the largest wildfire in the state in July after burning 458,123 acres.

Cal Fire began compiling its list of the largest wildfires in 1932.