Was the Kincade fire in
Sonoma County was ignited
by an object flying overhead?
Sonoma County was ignited
by an object flying overhead?
This video of the start of the Kincade fire in Sonoma County, California was realeased onto the internet.
IgorKostelac, an amateur investigator from Rijeka, Croatia has put the footage through a computer program that allows us to see what is happening, frame-by frame.
This is his movie
I have made a short video to show the essence of his findings which open up many questions.
This is what they are SAYING
A Pacific Gas and Electric Co. transmission tower malfunctioned near the origin point of the dangerous Kincade Fire in northeast Sonoma County right around the time the fire began, the company told state regulators Thursday.
PG&E said it became aware of an outage about 9:20 p.m. Wednesday on a 230,000-volt transmission line “when the line relayed and did not reclose,” according to a report the company filed with the California Public Utilities Commission. The report pegged the incident location as near Kincade Road and Burned Mountain Road — which is where state officials say the fire started minutes later.
The company has told The Chronicle that transmission lines of that voltage were turned on when the fire started, even though PG&E turned off electricity to lower-voltage distribution lines in the area because of high fire danger.
On Thursday morning, a PG&E employee patrolling the company’s Geysers #9 Lakeville transmission line saw that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had taped off the area around tower 001/006, according to the report. Cal Fire personnel showed the employee “what appeared to be a broken jumper on the same tower,” the report said.
The tower in question had been inspected earlier this year as part of PG&E’s enhanced effort to examine the condition of its equipment in high-fire threat areas. PG&E inspected more than 750,000 power poles and found thousands of problems, but the company has claimed that all of the highest-priority issues it unearthed were “repaired or made safe.”
The cause of the Kincade Fire is still under investigation, and PG&E said the information it reported to the utilities commission is preliminary.
Bill Johnson, CEO of the utility’s parent PG&E Corp., told reporters Thursday that the tower in question is 43 years old, “which is pretty common in the industry” and “not an old tower,” he said. PG&E inspected the equipment four times in the last two years, including by climbing and drone this year, Johnson said.
During this year’s inspections, crews found some minor problems but all of them were fixed — except for some new painting that needed to be done, Johnson said.
“It appears to have been in excellent condition, recently inspected,” he said.
Johnson also stressed that the report PG&E filed with regulators “does not tell us where the fire started.”
“Cal Fire, the experts in this, will draw that ultimate conclusion,” he said.
The utilities commission “received the incident report from PG&E today, which is required under our reporting requirements,” spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said in an email Thursday. “The (commission) is conducting a staff investigation to assess (how PG&E complied) with applicable rules and regulations.”
If state investigators ultimately confirm PG&E started the Kincade Fire, it will be the latest in a long series of disasters and controversies that have embroiled the San Francisco company for the better part of a decade. They include a deadly 2010 gas pipeline explosion and a series of horrific and record-setting wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that drove PG&E into bankruptcy protection in January.
The Kincade Fire threatens to throw a wrench into PG&E’s already contentious and highly complicated bankruptcy case, according to UC Hastings law professor Jared Ellias. That’s because the law requires any wildfire claims arising after the company’s bankruptcy filing to rise to the front of the line — ahead of victims of past disasters PG&E is responsible for, Ellias said.
“This is what we’ve been afraid of the whole time,” Ellias said.
So far, though, the Kincade Fire — which is burning in a relatively remote and sparsely populated area — has not brought the same level of destruction as past fires PG&E caused. As of Thursday evening, the fire had burned 16,000 acres but destroyed or damaged only 49 structures and no one was killed.
Still, Michael Wara, director of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, feared that the fact that PG&E equipment may have started a fire even as it instituted a blackout to prevent one may make future shut-offs worse.
“This inches us closer to the doomsday scenario where everyone in PG&E’s customer base is sitting in the dark,” Wara said. He stressed that “it’s not there yet” but noted that PG&E is looking at another potentially widespread blackout this weekend.
Hours before the fire broke out east of Geyserville, PG&E had shut off its low-voltage distribution lines as it put nearly 28,000 Sonoma County homes and businesses in the dark in order to prevent its equipment from starting a fire in extreme winds.
But PG&E did not turn off its 230,000-volt and 115,000-volt transmission lines in the area, the company said. Transmission lines carry electricity at high voltages across long distances before the power is stepped down at a substation and delivered to homes via distribution lines.
PG&E said in a statement that its transmission lines in the area stayed on according the company’s “established (power shut-off) protocols and procedures.”
“Those transmission lines were not deenergized because forecast weather conditions, particularly wind speeds, did not trigger the (power shut-off) protocol,” PG&E said. “The wind speeds of concern for transmission lines are higher than those for distribution.”
The company’s criteria for turning off high-voltage lines also includes how severe and long the extreme weather will last, conditions specific to the site that subject the equipment to more wear and tear, the age and condition of the equipment, when it was last repaired and “real-time field observations,” PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty said.
PG&E controls several transmission lines that run through the area of the Mayacamas Mountains where the Kincade Fire is burning, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration map.
Also in the area of the fire is a Calpine Corp. facility called the Geysers, a 45-square-mile complex of geothermal power plants that is the largest of its kind, according to the company’s website. The Kincade Fire burned through a portion of the facilities on Wednesday and caused minor damage, spokesman Brett Kerr said in an email.
Kerr said the geothermal plant powered down its own local power lines before the blaze began because of the high winds and “consistent with our fire prevention protocols.”
“We do not believe our facilities caused the fire,” Kerr said. “There are power lines operated by third parties across the Geysers.”
Despite the report of the faulty tower, PG&E has not admitted that its equipment started the fire.
Still, the fact is noteworthy because an aging PG&E transmission tower broke in the wind last November and started the Camp Fire, California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire in its recorded history. The company filed for bankruptcy protection less than three months later.
At the time of the Camp Fire, PG&E did not consider turning off high-voltage transmission lines, but the company revised its shut-off program to include them afterward.
San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Jill Tucker contributed to this report.