MAP: PG&E Transmission Lines Near Kincade Fire Ignition Point

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Updated 8:55 a.m. Friday

In an apparent replay of the sequence of events that led to last year's devastating Camp Fire in Butte County, PG&E reported Thursday that a failure on one of its high-voltage transmission lines occurred Wednesday night — minutes before the reported start of a fire that has burned more than 21,900 acres in Sonoma County and destroyed an unknown number of homes.


Green lines show location of PG&E transmission lines. Red marker shows the Kincade Fire's approximate ignition location as reported by Cal Fire. Data on transmission lines from the California Energy Commission, ignition point location from Cal Fire.

PG&E confirmed Thursday evening that while the utility shut off power to their distribution lines in that area, it did not turn off the power to high-voltage transmission lines.

The Kincade Fire

The utility wrote in a statement that "those transmission lines were not deenergized because forecast weather conditions, particularly wind speeds, did not trigger the PSPS protocol. The wind speeds of concern for transmission lines are higher than those for distribution."

PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said in a Thursday night media briefing that the "general guideline" for anticipating damage to transmission lines includes winds gusting at 55 mph or higher.

"This really accounts for debris flying into the lines," Johnson said.

Many weather stations in northeastern Sonoma County, including a PG&E weather station adjacent to the transmission line that experienced the malfunction, recorded gusts that exceeded that guideline on Wednesday night.

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Cal Fire is examining the area around a transmission tower near Kincade Road and Burned Mountain Road and notified PG&E that there was a broken jumper on the same tower.

Johnson said the 43-year-old tower has been inspected 4 times in the last 2 years, both by climbing and drone. Several “minor maintenance things” were repaired.

“It appears to have been in excellent condition,” Johnson said. “So we’re just going to have to wait for the results of our investigation and Cal Fire’s to learn more about that.”

Last November's Camp Fire began when a piece of hardware on a PG&E transmission tower along the Feather River broke, allowing an energized to swing free and arc — sparking the blaze.

That incident rapidly became the deadliest and most destructive fire in state history, killing 85 people and destroying nearly 14,000 homes in and around the town of Paradise.