US: California utility says line broke near fire origin


California’s largest utility company told state regulators Friday that one of its power jumpers broke within minutes of the start of an ongoing inferno tearing through the state’s wine country.

In a filing with California’s regulators, Pacific Gas and Electric said it became aware of the problem at 9.20 p.m. (0120GMT) Wednesday, just minutes before state officials said the Kincade Fire began near the same area.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, commonly referred to as Cal Fire, placed the start of the fire at 9.24 p.m. (0124GMT) that day.

It has since burned through 21,900 as firefighters struggle to bring it under control with just 5% containment reported so far. It has already destroyed 50 structures, according to officials.

The line that failed carried 230,000 volts, according to the company’s filing.

The utility’s chief, Bill Johnson, told reporters that the company is undergoing an internal review and has not yet accepted responsibility for the fire.

As the Kincade Fire spread in northern California, authorities ordered the small town of Geyserville to evacuate, forcing nearly 900 residents to leave.

Pacific Gas and Electric reached an $11 billion settlement agreement in September tied to historic fires that devastated wide-swathes of California in 2017 and 2018. Officials have determined the Camp Fire, which killed 86 people and burned more than 150,000 acres, was sparked by the company’s downed power lines.

It is the deadliest blaze in California’s history.

Cal Fire further tied the company’s equipment to the majority of the major wildfires that took place in the state in 2017.

Large portions of northern and southern California remain under a red-flag warning through Monday as high temperatures, low humidity and surging winds continue to produce ripe conditions to fuel infernos.

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