Yet again: California utility may have caused the Bobcat fire

Longtime followers know that I have a thing for tracking California utilities’ (and regulators’) failures to maintain their electricity transmission infrastructure at even a basic level. Despite all the crowing about climate change, California utilities using equipment is that is long, long past its useful life is one of the leading causes of wildfires. The largest fires in the state’s history can all be traced directly back to sparks and fires in the state’s infrastructure. When you combine this fact with poor land management on a grand scale, you can see why California residents have a persistent vulnerability.

A lot of this problem is due to the fact that the state has invested so heavily in new and fashionable alternative energy projects to the peril of maintaining existing infrastructure (because climate change!). Both PG&E and Southern California Edison have deteriorating infrastructure. This has become such a major issue over the years (cumulatively) that it seems impossible to fix without ruining the state’s tax base. When you consider that the state is already experiencing significant population loss, this is a very big deal.

I have documented these problems at length (and quantitatively) here:

PG&E equipment has likely caused at least three fires despite leaving millions without power

State investigation finds decades-long neglect of PG&E lines

Where were regulators when PG&E caused over 400 fires? The same place they were when a PG&E pipeline exploded.

Why doesn’t California just bury its power lines? The ugly math.

Meet the hedge funds trying to profit from California’s electricity crisis

Could wildfires set off another housing crisis in California? Some thoughts on the insurance market.

California decides to blow up its market for homeowner’s insurance

Well, it appears that we can add the Bobcat Fire, which has decimated about 1/6th of Angeles National Forest and threatened Los Angeles suburbs, to the list:

In what has become a familiar story to Southern Californians, U.S. Forest Service officials are investigating an equipment issue experienced by power provider Southern California Edison as the possible ignition point of the Bobcat Fire. The blaze is the third-largest ever recorded in Los Angeles County.

While the the cause has not been determined, the incident in question happened around the time the fire broke out.

It’s not the first time the utility’s equipment has been suspected of causing a massive wildfire.

In the past four years two other fires, among the biggest ever recorded in Southern California, have been associated with SCE equipment failure. One was the deadly Thomas Fire in Ventura County that scorched 281,000 acres in 2017.

The other was the Woolsey Fire, of which the utility’s CEO Pedro Pizzaro said, “Absent additional evidence, SCE believes it is likely that its equipment was associated with the ignition of the Woolsey Fire.” The Woolsey Fire scorched 96,000 acres, claimed three lives and destroyed more than 1,000 structures as it swept from Chatsworth through Malibu.

The Bobcat Fire erupted on Sept. 6 near the Cogswell Dam and West Fork Day Use area northeast of Mount Wilson and within the Angeles National Forest.

SCE claimed in documents filed with the California Public Utilities Commission last week that “the Jarvis 12 kV circuit out of Dalton Substation experienced a relay operation at 12:16 p.m. on September 6,” but maintains that smoke had already been detected by a camera on Mount Wilson at 12:10 p.m. that day.

“While USFS has not alleged that SCE facilities were involved in the ignition of the Bobcat Fire, SCE submits this report in an abundance of caution given USFS’s interest in retaining SCE facilities in connection with its investigation,” the utility said.

The utility agreed to remove a specific section of SCE overhead conductor in the vicinity of Cogswell Dam, as requested.

The Bobcat Fire increased in size slightly overnight — from 113,733 acres to 113,986 acres — and the containment expanded from 39% to 50%, forest officials said on Thursday. Full containment is not expected until Oct. 30.

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