I-TEAM: PG&E workers believe hurricane-level winds caused deadly North Bay wildfires, power line damage

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Calfire is investigating whether downed power lines sparked the deadly North Bay fires. The investigation is in its very early stages and there are many possibilities but PG&E has been fined before for lack of maintenance on its lines that caused a previous deadly wildfire. (KGO-TV)

Calfire is investigating whether downed power lines sparked the deadly North Bay fires. The investigation is in its very early stages and there are many possibilities but PG&E has been fined before for lack of maintenance on its lines that caused a previous deadly wildfire.

RELATED: PG&E source believes downed power lines, blown transformers started deadly North Bay fires

Just as the fires were igniting across Napa and Sonoma Sunday night, power lines on Myers Drive in Santa Rosa were failing.

Christian Sullberg took video from the safety of his home. The wind was blowing hard, pushing the power lines, some falling onto Ryan Franco's car.

"It was terrifying actually," said Franco. "I was trying to remain calm."

Franco was clearing dry leaves with his girlfriend on Thursday afternoon. It was a very close call. "It's starting to be fall so there's a lot of dry leaves around here -- so that could have easily hit one of our houses and gone up," he said.

Downed power lines and exploding transformers may have played a role in the fires, as heard on emergency recordings from Sunday night.

LIST: Resources for North Bay fires

Several PG&E line workers tell the ABC7 News I-Team they believe hurricane-level winds pushed trees into power lines that then failed and that PG&E has to do a better job of keeping vegetation cut back.

"And I do understand that some information by employees was put in the press," said CalFire director Ken Pimlott, responding to the I-Team report from Wednesday -- quoting PG&E workers who cite power lines as a possible cause of the blaze.

"That's all speculation, all rumor. The facts will come out when the investigations are done and those are brought forward," said Pimlott.

PG&E sent the I-Team a statement that you can read here.

It reads in part, "These destructive winds, along with millions of trees weakened by years of drought and recent renewed vegetation growth from winter storms, all contributed to some trees, branches, and debris impacting our electric lines across the North Bay."

"When they say weakened trees, that's the very responsibility they have to identify a weakened tree and remove it before it strikes a power line," said lawyer Frank Pitre, who has filed some of the 1,000 lawsuits pending against PG&E for the Butte fire in 2015.

It destroyed more than 500 homes and killed two people. The public utilities commission fined PG&E $8.3 million for failing to cut back a pine tree that contacted a power line and sparked that fire.

Pitre sees similarities in this week's North Bay fires. "Logic would tell you that the failure of these lines, the failure of equipment more likely than not either caused or contributed to the spread of this fire," he said.

Click here for full coverage on the North Bay fires.

Related Topics:
North Bay Firessmokewildfireair qualityfatal firefire deathfirefightersbuilding firePG&EelectricI-TeaminvestigationSan FranciscoSan Francisco International Airport
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