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SoCal Edison Has Been Fined $550 Million For Causing 5 Fires. Here Are The Violations Cited

Burned utility poles lean along a road after the Thomas Fire
Power lines along state Highway 150 near Santa Paula were burned over during the Thomas Fire.
(Sharon McNary
/
LAist)
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State utility regulators have approved more than a half-billion dollars in penalties against Southern California Edison as punishment for its equipment starting five fires in 2017 and 2018, including the massive Thomas and Woolsey Fires.

The penalties were also in response to Edison failing to cooperate with investigators from the Public Utilities Commission, and withholding evidence and documents from them. Together the penalties total $550 million dollars for the Liberty, Meyers, Rye, Thomas and Woolsey Fires.

Under the settlement, Edison's shareholders would pay $110 million into the state's general fund. The shareholders would also contribute $65 million toward safety measures.

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And finally, the company and its shareholders would have to give up $375 million in costs that they might normally be able to pass on to Edison customers.

"The company believes the agreement is fair and reasonable," said Edison spokesman Reggie Kumar, "and puts one additional uncertainty behind us, as the utility continues to implement its comprehensive wildfire risk mitigation measures."

He said SCE did not admit imprudence, negligence or liability in reaching the approved settlement.

Below is a list of the fires caused by Edison equipment, and the violations cited by the PUC.

Thomas Fire, Santa Paula, December 4, 2017

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This fire started in two different places and burned together into the Thomas Fire, but both sources of ignition were caused by Edison's equipment. One ignition site was near a home along Koenigstein Road, off California State Route 150. That's where a utility pole fell and ignited terrain. The other was in the Anlauf Canyon area of Ventura County where power lines slapped together in high winds, sending particles of hot melted metal into dry brush that caught fire.

The Thomas Fire destroyed 1,063 structures, and damaged 280.

The PUC cited five violations by Edison. It found Edison's power lines were not separated far enough apart. The company also failed to provide the PUC with a list of the evidence and records it used in its own investigation, and withheld photos, notes, reports and text messages generated by first responders to the fires.

Liberty Fire near Temecula, December 7, 2017

CAL FIRE determined the Liberty Fire was caused by a failed switch on a power pole. It destroyed one structure.

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The PUC said Edison failed to preserve evidence, provided incomplete responses or refused to answer investigators’ questions.

Meyers Fire near Devore in San Bernardino County, Dec. 5, 2017

Edison failed to properly maintain a power line, which fell while electricity was running through it, causing the Meyers Fire.

The regulators cited the company's failure to provide evidence from its own investigation into the fire, and relevant information created by first responders to the power line incident.

Edison also delayed and obstructed the PUC's Safety Enforcement Division by failing to identify the pieces of evidence near where the fire started for its investigators.

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The Meyers Fire did not burn any structures.

Rye Fire, Santa Clarita, Dec. 5, 2017

Edison had eight violations for the Rye Fire, several for poor maintenance and installation of its equipment and for inadequate strength of its materials. The others were for not cooperating with Public Utilities Commission staff, failing to provide evidence to the PUC investigators, failing to provide a list of witnesses to the incident and withholding photos and other information generated by first responders to the incident.

The Rye Fire damaged three structures and destroyed six.

Woolsey Fire, Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Simi Hills near Chatsworth, November 8, 2018

A cascading series of Edison power equipment mishaps caused the Woolsey Fire.

First, a loose guy wire used to stabilize a steel utility pole hit a live power line and caused an arc flash that sent bits of hot metal to the ground, starting a fire in the brush.

But that contact also caused the steel pole to become energized, and that electrified other guy wires and a normally non-energized "messenger" wire used to support a power line. That electrified messenger wire slapped another messenger wire, and hot falling metal from the wires caused a second ignition. The two fires merged and became the Woolsey Fire.

The Woolsey Fire destroyed 1,643 structures and about $6 billion in property damage. Three people died.

Edison committed 26 violations of state utility regulations, mostly having to do with the maintenance and installation of power lines, guy wires, messenger lines and other equipment, and keeping them clear of trees and other vegetation.

The company also was found in violation of two counts of failing to cooperate with the Safety Enforcement Division's investigators.

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