Edison Report Ties Equipment to a Deadly Los Angeles Wildfire

By David R. Baker and Mark Chediak | October 15, 2019

California utility giant Edison International has sent state regulators a report on a deadly wildfire that broke out last week on the edge of Los Angeles, signaling that the company’s equipment may have been somehow involved in the blaze.

Southern California Edison submitted a filing known as a safety incident report with the state Public Utilities Commission on a fire that erupted late Thursday on the city’s northern border, agency spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said. The Saddleridge blaze destroyed 23 buildings and led to the death of a man who suffered a heart attack while hosing down his house.

Edison declined to say in an emailed statement whether its equipment may have caused the fire. The company instead said that its local equipment had been “impacted near the reported time of the fire” and that it filed the report with the commission on Friday “out of an abundance of caution.”

Utilities are required to file such reports if an accident involving their equipment causes an injury or death, leads to damage of more than $50,000, blacks out at least 10% of the company’s service territory or generates significant media coverage. The last major report of this kind came when PG&E Corp. filed one shortly after the deadliest fire in California history broke out last November. That blaze, the Camp Fire, ended up killing 86 people, leveled the entire town of Paradise and eventually forced the company into bankruptcy.

Prosper said by email on Monday that the report from Edison was deemed confidential, so the agency wasn’t immediately releasing it to the public. The report filed by PG&E on the Camp fire was made public and showed that a PG&E transmission line went dark 15 minutes before the fire was first spotted. State investigators later found the company’s power lines at fault for sparking the blaze.

Stock Sell-Off

Edison extended its losses on Monday, falling 1.8% to $70.06, the lowest close since July. That’s even after Citigroup Inc. analysts including Praful Mehta called the sell-off overdone and noted that the utility has $750 million in wildfire insurance and a statewide wildfire insurance fund to lean on.

By Monday, the Saddleridge blaze had scorched nearly 8,000 acres and was 43% contained. Large sections of several major freeways in the Los Angeles area were shut last week as the fire spread and tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate.

The fire was driven by a wind storm that moved across California last week, prompting the state’s utilities to cut off electricity to roughly 2.3 million people in an unprecedented bid to prevent fires. Edison had shut power to more than 20,000 customers in its territory, but didn’t cut service in the area where the Saddleridge blaze broke out.

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