Judge tentatively finds uninsulated PG&E power lines sparked 2017-2018 wildfires

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A federal judge issued an order Thursday, tentatively finding that "that the single most recurring cause of the large 2017 and 2018 wildfires attributable to PG&E's equipment has been the susceptibility of PG&E's distribution lines to trees or limbs falling onto them during high-wind events."

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U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup writes the fires most often started in rural areas from uninsulated power lines atop 35-50 foot poles that run through grass, brush, oak and pines: "When the conductors are pushed together by falling trees or limbs, electrical sparks drop into the vegetation below. During the wildfire season when the vegetation is dry, these electrical sparks pose an extreme danger of igniting a wildfire."

Alsup has ordered all parties in the proceeding to comment by next week, and be prepared to discuss the tentative finding at a hearing January 30.

Judge Alsup is overseeing PG&E's criminal probation. The utility was found guilty of safety violations and obstructing the NTSB investigation into the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion.

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Attorney Mike Danko, who represents more than a thousand clients from three wildfires, tells the I-Team that PG&E decided to save money by not insulating the lines, which makes them more likely to spark wildfires in high winds.

Danko says the judge could force PG&E to take action, even by installing a manager at the utility: "I may just tell you this is how you can run your business because you're a convicted felon. You continue to violate your probation and we're not gonna have another fire on my watch."

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