Kincade Fire: PG&E tower near ignition point of Sonoma County wildfire was not shut off, had broken equipment

ByMelanie Woodrow, Khaled Sayed and Ken Miguel KGO logo
Friday, October 25, 2019
PG&E: Tower near Kincade Fire's starting point wasn't shut off
The Kincade fire erupted quickly near some power lines and a power plant, raising some questions whether PG&E's planned power outages are effective. The I-Team has been digging into the source of the blaze. Here's what we've found.

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- The Kincade Fire erupted near some power lines and a power plant just minutes after a PG&E transmission tower experienced an outage, possibly because of a broken piece of equipment.

This is according to details uncovered in a PG&E electric incident report, filed to the California Public Utility Commission Thursday morning.

This new report is raising some questions about whether PG&E's planned power shutoffs are effective.

According to PG&E's website, this area was part of a Public Safety Power Shutoff, but the power was not cut in the area until 28 minutes after the fire started.

But PG&E revealed Thursday evening that the transmission tower in question, near Kincade Road & Burned Mountain Road, was not de-energized.

The utility only shut off power to local power lines because the weather forecast did not meet their threshold to shut off power to high voltage transmissions lines.

"We didn't see the wind speeds in the forecast that we typically would see for transmission outage," said PG&E CEO & President Bill Johnson. "We relied on the the protocol and we still at this point do not know exactly what happened."

RELATED: Smoke from Kincade Fire could pose health hazards across San Francisco Bay Area

The utility's electric incident report from Thursday morning reveals that a CAL FIRE employee alerted PG&E that it found what appeared to be a broken piece of equipment on the PG&E transmission tower.

The equipment was described as a 'jumper' which PG&E explained is a piece of wire that 'jumps' the conductor over the insulator.

"The fact that we filed this (report), does not tell us what caused the fire," said Johnson. "Cal Fire, the experts on this will drawn their own conculsion."

PG&E's report says the outage was reported at 9:20PM.

ABC7 News found video from a wildfire network camera that captured the moment the lights went out in that area.

If you look closely, the video shows something glowing in the distance and then it fades. Then there is fire.

The fire dispatch recordings minutes after the outage occurred said it loud and clear, "A vegetation fire reported as in the geysers is going to be on John Kincade Road, break."

A timelapse video recorded by the Nevada Seismological Laboratory ALERTWildFire cameras captured just how quickly the Kincade Fire exploded, spreading over Sonoma County.

Fire dispatchers quickly identified power lines are a possible cause.

VIDEO: PG&E Power Outage: How long will this last, what's happening with PG&E, where can you get help?

"Also possible power lines down in the area all units acknowledge life safety hazard on check back," said the dispatch recordings.

Firefighters arrived at around 9:27 p.m. to already find a large fire spread over several hundred acres.

A look from Google Earth shows you just how rugged this terrain is, and shows you just how close the fire sparked to The Geysers geothermal power plant.

ABC7 News spotted CAL FIRE investigators looking for evidence in an area near Kincade Road and near a geothermal power plant.

RELATED: How to survive if you don't have time to escape a fast-moving wildfire

Calpine, the energy company that owns the Geysers power plant, provided the I-Team with a statement, saying in part: "Consistent with our fire prevention protocols, due to the wind conditions we had de-energized our local power line system before the fire started. We do not believe our facilities caused the fire. There are power lines operated by third parties across The Geysers."

The big question now is if the fire was caused by a PG&E power line, why was that line not deenergized sooner?

Get the latest developments on the Kincade Fire here.

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