SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The destructive 2019 Kincade Fire, the largest fire ever to occur in Sonoma County, was caused by transmission lines owned by Pacific Gas and Electric, according to an announcement Thursday by Cal Fire.
The Kincade Fire began on October 23, 2019 northeast of Geyserville and burned more than 77,000 acres until it was contained on November 6, 2019. The fire burned 374 structures and led to tens of thousands of evacuations in Geyserville, Healdsburg and surrounding communities.
Four people suffered non-life threatening injuries in the fire.
According to a statement from Cal Fire, “After a very meticulous and thorough investigation, CAL FIRE has determined that the Kincade Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity (PG&E) located northeast of Geyserville.”
Cal Fire said the investigative report from the Kincade Fire has been forwarded to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.
In a statement, PG&E said, “We appreciate all the heroic efforts of the first responders who fought the 2019 Kincade Fire, helped local citizens evacuate and made sure no one perished in the fire. We are aware of CAL FIRE’s news release stating that PG&E facilities caused the fire. At this time, we do not have access to CAL FIRE’s investigative report or the evidence it has collected. We look forward to reviewing both at the appropriate time. We want our customers and communities to know that safety is our most important responsibility and that we are working hard every day to reduce wildfire risk throughout our service area.”
During the initial investigation into the fire, PG&E had told state regulators that it had a problem at a transmission tower near where the fire ignited. The utility had shut off power to thousands of people in Northern California that day in a bid to prevent high winds from toppling power lines and igniting wildfires. Power was shut off to distribution lines but not to high-voltage transmission lines.
A report released in January Moody Analytics research company found the fire cost the county $620 million in losses and that rolling PG&E power shutoffs caused an additional $105 million in losses.
The county’s losses from the fire included damages to lands, parks, roads, and costs for emergency services, evacuations, debris removal, labor and watershed restoration, according to a preliminary report from the board of supervisors.
PG&E has just emerged from a contentious bankruptcy saga that began after its long-neglected electrical grid ignited a series of wildfires in California from 2015 to 2018 that killed more than 100 people.
The nation’s largest utility emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 1 having paid $5.4 billion in initial funds and 22.19% of its stock into a trust for victims of wildfires caused by its outdated equipment.
Faced with more than $50 billion in claims from fire victims, insurers and government agencies, settled most of those claims for a combined $25.5 billion.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.