California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years due to its aging equipment’s role in disasters. Now, the company says they most likely were to blame for last year’s Camp Fire, which was the most destructive fire in state history, leveling 14,000 structures and killing 85 people, according to NPR.
The state is still investigating the origins of last November’s fire, which destroyed the Butte County town of Paradise. PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy last month, could be subject to billions of dollars in liabilities if it is found responsible for the disaster.
PG&E now say it may have been one of the company’s towers on the Caribou-Palermo power line that started the fire. The tower experienced an outage at 6:45 a.m. on the morning the Camp Fire started, close to the 6:30 a.m. start time that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has estimated.
At that time, PG&E says, employees “observed damage to the pole and equipment and downed wires” at another nearby point that could have also started the fire.
A report from the Wall Street Journal found that PG&E knew of problems on the Caribou-Palermo line since 2013, when they proposed replacing many of the components. But the company repeatedly pushed back the maintenance. To this day, it still hasn’t been completed.
In response to the controversy over the company’s responsibility, activists in the state have called for PG&E to be made a public utility.
As the investigation unfolds, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has also said it’s possible that the company could face criminal charges, even up to murder.