'Disturbance' Occurred at SoCal Edison Substation Moments Before Woolsey Fire Started

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Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures in Agoura Hills, as the Woolsey Fire moves through Ventura and L.A. counties.  (Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)

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The utility company Southern California Edison has told state regulators that there was an outage tied to one of its substations two minutes before the Woolsey Fire is believed to have started in Ventura County.

The facility, known as the Chatsworth Substation, is located near the area where the massive blaze is believed to have ignited, just south of Simi Valley. According to an incident report the company filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, a circuit "relayed" at 2:22 p.m. on Thursday.

"When a circuit relays, [it] senses a disturbance on the circuit and switches the circuit off," said Sally Jeung, a spokeswoman for Edison. Jeung, reached by phone on Saturday, said she did not know what triggered the circuit's sensor.

Cal Fire says the Woolsey Fire started just two minutes later, at approximately 2:24 p.m.

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It's unclear if the "disturbance" that led to the outage was a contributing factor in sparking the Woolsey Fire, if the fire itself caused the disturbance, or if they are unrelated.

State fire officials say the fire started in the area of Alfa Road, south of Simi Valley. According to a CPUC map of utility infrastructure in the area, the Chatsworth Substation is located just south of Simi Valley.

A California Public Utilities Commission map of utility infrastructure in Southern California shows the Chatsworth Substation located just south of Simi Valley, in the area fire officials believe the Woolsey Fire began.
A California Public Utilities Commission map of utility infrastructure in Southern California shows the Chatsworth Substation located just south of Simi Valley, in the area fire officials believe the Woolsey Fire began. (California Public Utilities Commission)

As of Saturday afternoon, the blaze has scorched 70,000 acres and caused an immense amount of destruction in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties. The fire has forced some 200,000 people from their homes, and an unknown number of structures have been destroyed.

Edison says it submitted its initial electricity safety report "out of an abundance of caution as it may meet the subject of significant public attention." The report said the utility's crews have not been able to access its facilities in the area where the fire began, and there are no signs its infrastructure caused the blaze.

"At this point we have no indication from fire agency personnel that SCE utility facilities may have been involved in the start of the fire," the report said.

Ventura County Fire Capt. Brian McGrath said it was too early to jump to assumptions about whether Edison's outage could be tied to the cause of the blaze.

"It's so early in the incident. We can't say how important or if it's important. We have to be patient," McGrath said.

"I'm sure investigators will look at it. Right now we're focused on saving lives," he said.

Representatives for Cal Fire did not respond to a request for comment.

News of Edison's report comes after word that Pacific Gas and Electric notified the CPUC that it experienced an incident early Thursday on a major electrical transmission line at a remote site in Butte County minutes before the reported start of the Camp Fire.

The commission is reviewing both reports, according to agency spokeswoman Terrie Prosper.

"CPUC staff will incorporate Edison's incident report into its investigation to assess the compliance of electric facilities with applicable rules and regulations in fire impacted areas," Prosper said in an emailed statement.

Edison says it will fully cooperate with fire investigators.

The Hill and Woolsey fires have damaged the utility company's equipment and lines, and led to outages, according to a company press release. The utility is unable, currently, to assess that damage using air patrols because of flight restrictions due to firefighting in the area, the utility said.

Last month, Edison announced that its equipment likely sparked one of two ignition points for the massive Thomas Fire, which burned more than 280,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 structures in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties last year.