SoCal Edison Power Lines Hit by Winds Caused Deadly Thomas Fire, Investigators Say

Flames from the Thomas Fire burn in the hills above homes in Montecito on Dec. 11, 2017. Mandatory evacuations were ordered in the area on Dec. 16, 2017. (Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Flames from the Thomas Fire burn in the hills above homes in Montecito on Dec. 11, 2017. Mandatory evacuations were ordered in the area on Dec. 16, 2017. (Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Southern California Edison-owned power lines hit by high winds caused the deadly Thomas Fire that tore through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in late 2017, authorities said Wednesday.

The wildfire broke out on Dec. 4, 2017 before burning through more than 280,000 acres, killing two people and destroying hundreds of homes over the course of 40 days. In Santa Barbara County, areas left scorched by wildfire were overrun with mudslides weeks later that killed 21 people in the affluent neighborhood of Montecito.

Power lines hitting against each other created what’s known as an electrical arc — resulting in hot, molten or burning material being deposited onto the ground below and ultimately sparking the devastating fire, according to investigators led by Ventura County officials.

SoCal Edison admitted its electrical equipment likely caused the wildfire in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in October 2018 — at least in regards to one of the fire’s two ignition points.

“SCE believes its electrical equipment was associated with an ignition near Koenigstein Road in Santa Paula — one of at least two origin points for the Thomas Fire,” the SoCal Edison statement reads.

On Wednesday, the utility said it has not seen evidence indicating its power lines were involved in the other ignition point, located in the Anlauf Canyon area of Ventura County. That ignition started at least 12 minutes before “any issue involving SCE’s system” and at least 15 minutes prior to the fire start time described by investigators, according to SoCal Edison.

“SCE provided this evidence to CAL FIRE and (Ventura County Fire Department) investigators; however, the report does not suggest this evidence was considered,” read a company statement issued Wednesday.

SoCal Edison officials also said the Anlauf Canyon ignition point alone may have been “responsible for a significant portion of the Thomas Fire damages.” The company also said it’s not aware of any criminal liability it holds for the wildfire.

Nearly 9,000 personnel with the assistance of firefighters and first responders from across the U.S. battled the blaze until it was 100 percent contained on Jan. 12, 2018.

The agencies that investigated the fire include the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.

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