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PG&E missed chance to prevent Camp Fire, California regulators say

By Don Jacobson
The sun glows through smokey skies behind high tension electricy towers in Butte County, Calif., on November 17, 2018, during the Camp Fire. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/d18d60f9cfdbb7dbcc1413e04da2bc26/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
The sun glows through smokey skies behind high tension electricy towers in Butte County, Calif., on November 17, 2018, during the Camp Fire. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Poor maintenance practices by California's largest public utility led to missed opportunities to prevent the deadliest wildfire in state history, regulators said Monday at the conclusion of a lengthy investigation.

The near 700-page analysis by the California Public Utilities Commission said the utility failed to properly inspect and maintain its high-voltage Caribou-Palermo power line before the November 2018 Camp Fire started.

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State officials earlier this year determined that a Nov. 8, 2018, malfunction along the aging power line was responsible for the historic wildfire, which ultimately killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings in and around Paradise, Calif., about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

The report largely confirmed those findings but also detailed what it said was a lack of proper maintenance and inspections along the Caribou-Palermo line -- and a lower-voltage line that started a second blaze -- and said it represented a crucial missed chance to prevent the Camp Fire.

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"The identified shortcomings in PG&E's inspection and maintenance of the incident tower were not isolated, but rather indicative of an overall pattern of inadequate inspection and maintenance of PG&E's transmission facilities," investigators said in the report.

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Although PG&E personnel previously examined the aging tower from the ground and sky, they hadn't performed a more thorough climbing inspection since at least 2001, the report said.

"Without question, the loss of life, homes and businesses is heartbreaking. The tragedy in Butte County on Nov. 8, 2018, will never be forgotten," PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty said in an email to the San Francisco Chronicle. "We remain deeply sorry about the role our equipment had in this tragedy, and we apologize to all those impacted by the devastating Camp Fire."

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The fire caused more than $16 billion in damage and charred 153,000 acres.

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