10:17 GMT +314 November 2019
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    A structure burns during the Kincade fire in Geyserville, California

    California Utility Co May Be to Blame for Devastating Blaze North of San Francisco – Reports

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    The state’s emergency services have responded to multiple fires raging across both northern and southern California starting Wednesday, with one of the major blazes affecting vineyards in Sonoma County, while a second destroyed property and prompted mass evacuations north of Los Angeles.

    California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric has admitted that they did not de-energize a 230,000-volt transmission line near Geyserville, northern California, with an out of control blaze erupting in the region minutes after a malfunction was reported.

    PG&E CEO Bill Johnson was quoted by AP as saying that it wasn’t clear what caused the fire at this time, and that the faulty tower had been inspected on four occasions over the past two years with no signs of problems. However, on Wednesday, the company had reported discovering a “broken jumper” on the affected tower, with a fire reported to have broken out minutes later.

    The blaze, driven by strong winds, soon swallowed up some 65 square kilometers (34 square miles) in territory, with 2,000 people in Sonoma County, along with the entire town of Geyserville, evacuated as at least 49 buildings were consumed in flames. The fire is also known as the Kincade Fire.

    The utility has since released a statement saying the transmission lines had not been de-energized “because forecast weather conditions, particularly wind speeds, did not trigger the [Public Safety Power Shutoff] protocol.”

    Firefighters warned Friday that the fire may expand over the weekend amid forecasts of heavy winds.

    The fire also caused havoc beyond the area directly affected, with PG&E temporarily shutting off power to about 500,000 people across the northern and central part of the state, although juice was restored to over 90 percent of affected customers by Thursday night.

    Southern California Faces Separate Blaze

    Meanwhile, in southern California, authorities warned that a separate fire north of Los Angeles had placed over 15,000 structures under threat, with Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby quoted by AP as saying that the fire, also driven by strong winds, was only 5 percent contained, having already burned through some 17 square kilometers (7 square miles) of land. That fire, whose cause has yet to be determined, began Thursday, and has prompted the evacuations of as many as 50,000 people.

    Officials closed all schools in San Fernando Valley on Friday over the blaze, citing poor air quality, with about two dozen private schools also closed.

    Along with these fires, the state is experiencing at least two other major fires, including a grass fire in San Mateo County, south of Pescadero, and a fire in San Bernadino County,  east of LA, which has burned through 95 acres and led to the closure of a major highway.

    PG&E faced a backlash over a 2018 blaze known as the Camp Fire, which led to the deaths of 85 people, and caused $16.5 billion in damage, and was thought to have been sparked by aging PG&E equipment. The company is facing billions of dollars in lawsuits and, and has sought bankruptcy protection.


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