Breaking News Emails
The day before California's deadly Camp Fire started, with 63 confirmed victims and around 600 people missing, one local landowner said Pacific Gas & Electric knew of an electrical problem that may have set off the blaze.
The day before the fire began, PG&E reportedly emailed a local landowner about "problems with sparks" and the need for workers to enter her property and work on the high-power lines.
However, PG&E said that email was "about future planned work on a different transmission line in the area." The utility company noted that line "had previously been deenergized and was not operational when the Camp Fire started."
"This is not the same line that PG&E identified in its Electric Incident Report on Nov. 8," a spokesperson for PG&E told NBC News.
Betsy Ann Cowley owns Pulga, a renovated former railroad town that is rented out for corporate retreats and private functions. She was away on vacation when an email arrived.
"I’ve continuously tried to get in touch with [transmission line workers] but nobody is in charge and they suck at communication," Cowley told Bay Area News Group, noting that PG&E has ignored the power lines for years.
State officials have not yet determined a cause of the fire. However, an alert sent to state regulators and radio transmissions reviewed by Bay Area News Group suggest that a transmission line malfunction might have caused sparks that set off the blaze.
If officials conclude that sparks from PG&E equipment were the cause, the company could face massive lawsuits. In addition to the loss of life and missing persons, as of yesterday the fire had burned 117,000 acres, destroyed 6,453 residences and 260 commercial buildings, and threatened another 15,500, according to state authorities.
In a court filing on Friday, the company reportedly said it had detected a problem on a transmission line 15 minutes before the first report of the Camp Fire.
On Tuesday last week, PG&E began informing 70,000 customers in Northern California about potential power blackouts due to "extreme fire danger conditions." The areas included Butte County, where Pulga and Paradise are located. The National Weather Service had also issued fire hazard warnings.
On Thursday, the day of the fire, the company said it would not proceed with the blackouts "as weather conditions did not warrant this safety measure."
The utility has faced criticism and law suits over their part in previous large fires. State Sen. Jerry Hill of Redwood City has been a long-time critic of PG&E.
"If PG&E is found responsible for burning down the state again, at some point we have to say enough is enough and we have to ask should this company be allowed to do business in California?" Hill told AP. "These fires take a spark, and at least in the last few years fires have been caused by negligent behavior by PG&E. We need to see how we can hold them responsible, or look at alternative way of doing business."