PG&E Power Line Hooks Found Wrapped in Tape, Fire Victims Say

A recent inspection of a PG&E Corp. transmission line uncovered equipment issues similar to those cited as the cause of the deadliest fire in California history, according to lawyers for wildfire victims.

During a December inspection, an expert for the attorneys photographed worn and rusted c-hooks on a transmission line near the Caribou-Palermo line in Northern California’s Sierra foothills that failed and sparked the Camp Fire, the official committee representing fire victims in PG&E’s bankruptcy said in a statement.

Some of the hooks on the Cresta-Rio Oso line “appeared to be held together by black electrical tape,” the committee said.

California investigators concluded that a worn c-hook on the Caribou-Palermo line broke and ignited the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. State regulators said that PG&E could have prevented the catastrophic blaze if it had conducted proper inspections and repairs on the line.

PG&E has won court approval of a $13.5 billion settlement with the wildfire committee for past fires blamed on its equipment that pushed the utility into bankruptcy a year ago.

The wildfire lawyers said they have told PG&E about its findings and are working with the utility to resolve the issue.

“We are extremely glad the expert brought this to our attention,” said Michael Carlson of Caymus Vineyards, who is a member of the committee. “PG&E has stated that it completed 100% of its visual and drone inspections of its transmission lines, so we could not take the risk that it had missed these issues.”

U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who oversees the utility’s criminal probation, has pushed PG&E to improve its fire-safety protocols and has shown a keen interest in the jumper-cable failure that sparked the Camp Fire.

In response to a detailed series of questions from the judge, PG&E said it inspected and made repairs to the “vast majority” of power lines in high fire-risk areas.

The judge said this week that some of the company’s written responses were incomplete and he asked more questions.

“Shouldn’t we be concerned that the inspections conducted by PG&E failed to detect the potential detachment on the tower in question, and shouldn’t we be concerned that other inspections of other towers using the same protocol have also failed to catch jumper cables on the verge of detachment?” Alsup wrote. “What good are inspections that don’t find problems?”

About the photo: A Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) team member from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) searches through the debris of a home destroyed by the Camp Fire outside of Paradise. Photo by Robert Barker Dec 11, 2018