U.S. utility’s sagging electricity line sparked 2022 wildfire, media reports


An electricity line owned by major US utility SCE caused a deadly wildfire – which torched 11 hectares of land, 28 homes and led to two deaths – in California last year, The Washington Post reports.

Unreleased Department of Forestry and Fire Protection documents obtained by the publication state a sagging SCE electricity line allegedly touched a communication line below, leading to sparks igniting nearby vegetation and starting the Fairview Fire.

SCE spokeswoman Diane Castro told pv magazine that “our hearts are with the community and the people who suffered losses in the Fairview Fire.”

“We cooperated with CALFIRE during its review of the fire and are examining their latest report,” she said.

Asked whether pv magazine could obtain the report, Castro said she does not have a copy. pv magazine asked the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection for the document but did not get a response.

SCE, a subsidiary of Californian-based Edison International, delivers power to 15 million people across the state.

The company is being sued by the US government for alleged negligence of poorly maintained power lines, which led to another wildfire that burned close to 466 square kilometers in 2020.

According to the SCE’s “2023-2035 Wildfire Mitigation Plan” published earlier this year, up to seven catastrophic wildfires were “opined” to have been caused or linked to SCE utility infrastructure since 2007. The report states the Fairview Fire is still under investigation.

SCE’s safety report contains “lessons learned” and “resulting mitigations” following the fires. This includes modifying its inspection form with new questions to “capture and remediate” issues, and starting transmission and distribution structure inspections from the ground and sky.

A catastrophic fire is defined as a fire causing at least one death, damaging over 500 structures or burning over 2,023 hectares.

SCE said in March it had reduced the probability of catastrophic wildfires associated with its equipment by up to 80%.

The company published its “Countdown to 45” report earlier this year, which calls for a range of measures to achieve the Californian government’s pledge of net zero by 2045 goal. Measures include developing an extra 90 GW of utility-scale “clean” generation, around 25 GW of utility-scale energy storage and more than 15 GW of behind-the-meter solar and storage options.

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