PG&E and other large utilities in California have a long history of being found responsible for major wildfires because of inadequate maintenance of their power lines.
As the first reports came in Sunday night of numerous fires that would grow into one of the most destructive wildfire disasters in California history, emergency dispatchers in Sonoma County received multiple calls of power lines falling down and electrical transformers exploding.
In all, according to a review of emergency radio traffic by the Bay Area News Group, Sonoma County dispatchers sent out fire crews to at least 10 different locations across the county over a 90-minute period starting at 9:22 pm to respond to 911 calls and other reports of sparking wires and problems with the county’s electrical system amid high winds.
State fire officials said Tuesday that they are still investigating the cause of the blazes, which as of late Tuesday had killed 17 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Sonoma, Napa and other Northern California counties.
But the reports of the power equipment failures began to turn the spotlight on PG&E, the giant San Francisco-based utility, raising questions about how well it maintained its equipment in the area and whether it adequately cut back trees from power lines to reduce fire risk — as required by state law.