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Judge demands answers from PG&E after Kincade Fire

Amid similarities to the 2018 Camp Fire, the federal judge handling PG&E's criminal sentence is demanding answers.
Credit: AP
A firefighter from San Matteo helps fight the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, Calif., on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

SAN FRANCISCO — US District Court Judge William Alsup is demanding answers from PG&E about its possible involvement in starting the Kincade Fire, where a state investigation raises similarities to the origin of the deadly 2018 Camp Fire.

PG&E is under the judge's supervision because the company is a federal offender serving a sentence of probation for felonies connected to the deaths of eight people in the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion.

The power monopoly reported a problem with a jumper cable on a transmission line in the time and place where the Kincade Fire began in Sonoma County.

The fire destroyed nearly 400 buildings, injured four people, and forced 180,000 to evacuate.

Alsup is demanding that PG&E answer a battery of questions on-the-record about its issues with transmission lines, including some as basic as, "what scenarios could plausibly cause a jumper cable to separate from a transmission line during a windstorm?"

The judge also demanded to know the inspection history of the tower under investigation as a possible cause of the Kincade Fire and demanded to know, "should we now be worried that other jumper cables inspected in the same manner have potential failures that have gone undetected?"

Pressure from Alsup to prevent new wildfires is largely responsible for the monopoly's decision to cut off electricity during three separate windstorms in October.

The largest of these planned blackouts left about 3 million Californians in the dark.

One of the blackouts was in effect in the area where the Kincade Fire began, but PG&E says it decided to only cut the power to neighborhood distribution lines, not the transmission line under investigation by Cal Fire.

Transmission lines are high-tension, high-voltage lines that carry electricity across wide regions, forming the backbone of the power grid. They generally feature multiple energized lines and some towers feature jumper cables to rotate the position of each line, which is intended to make the system more resilient.

Broken jumper equipment was also discovered on the tower that sparked the 2018 Camp Fire, which became the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history when it burned down the town of Paradise along with the neighboring communities of Concow and Magalia, killing 85 people.

PG&E's answers are due to the court on Friday, Nov. 29.

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