PG&E’s response to the mammoth Dixie Fire of 2021 was “excessively delayed,” a blunder that was a major factor behind the spread of the devastating inferno, according to a newly released state report.
The embattled utility was guilty of a “prolonged response” to an initial outage and power line fault, according to the report by the state forestry and fire protection department, also known as Cal Fire.
The fire, which started last July in the Feather River Canyon and burned for more than three months, scorched sections of Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta, and Tehama counties and consumed 963,300 acres. It was the largest single wildfire in California history and the second-largest blaze of any kind in the state.
PG&E’s delay became “a direct and negligent factor in the ignition of the fire,” Cal Fire said in the report.
The state fire agency’s investigation determined that PG&E’s equipment caused the Dixie Fire. A tree contacting PG&E electrical distribution lines west of Cresta Dam was the origin of the blaze.
PG&E pushed back against some of the key findings in the report and disputed that the utility acted in a tardy fashion.
“We believe we acted as a prudent operator,” PG&E said in a post on its website.
The Cal Fire report was completed in January and forwarded to the Butte County District Attorney’s Office, but wasn’t released publicly until this month.
The report is not the first time the utility has been blamed for disastrous, and in some cases fatal, wildfires. PG&E pleaded guilty in 2020 to more than 80 counts of involuntary manslaughter related to the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise and claimed dozens of lives. The utility was also convicted of criminal charges and fined $3 million in connection with a fatal gas explosion in San Bruno in 2010.