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Powerlines Blamed for 3 California Wildfires

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A new report by investigators for the California Public Utilities Commission says that damaged power lines started last year’s Guejito, Witch and Rice wildfires. Those three fires, which occurred last October, burned more than 207,000 acres, destroyed 1,141 homes, damaged scores of others, killed 2 people and injured 40 firefighters.

According to the report, the Guejito fire started when an improperly maintained Cox Communications line came into contact with a San Diego Gas & Electric conductor. The Witch fire was attributed to two of the utility’s lines coming into contact, and the Rice fire began when a tree limb, which investigators suggested should have been trimmed, fell onto a utility line.

The investigation also alleges that San Diego Gas & Electric obstructed the Commission’s investigation by delaying access to witnesses, sites and other evidence.

According to The New York Times, the Utilities Commission’s report echoes another released in July by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Commission could impose financial penalties against both Cox and San Diego Gas & Electric once it reviews the investigation.

San Diego Gas & Electric already faces a lawsuit filed by the city of San Diego that blames it for the fires. The city’s attorney announced on Tuesday that he would be adding Cox to the lawsuit.

Power lines are implicated in only about 2 to 3 percent of such California wildfires. But because lines sit on high towers located on remote, windy and hard-to-access terrain, the results are usually devastating.

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