PG&E acknowledges in its annual report released Thursday that the utility has been served with a search warrant for documents related to the 2019 Kincade fire, the largest fire in Sonoma County history.
PG&E does not say what documents prosecutors are seeking, but NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit first reported last year the findings by Cal Fire, which included a recommendation that the company face multiple felony charges for its failure to properly decommission a high voltage line that had once fed power to a nearby shuttered geothermal plant.
Sonoma County prosecutors have been tightlipped on the status of the case, and did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
On page 188 of its annual report, PG&E told investors the company was served with the search warrant on Wednesday and “expects to produce documents and respond to other requests for information in connection with the investigation and the search warrant.”
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The wind-whipped inferno on Oct. 23, 2019 began at the base of a high voltage tower that once provided power to Calpine’s Fumarole 9-10 plant, northeast of the town of Geyserville. The fire ultimately spanned 77,000 acres and triggered the largest evacuation in county history. Four firefighters were injured and more than 300 structures leveled.
Cal Fire concluded the fire could have been avoided had the utility properly shut down a branch of the main line that fed the shuttered geothermal plant until two decades ago. Such decommissioning typically involves removing or de-energizing the branch of the line from the tower.
But Cal fire found the company left the line energized back in 2001 while at the same time disconnecting a clamp that held it taught to the tower. The loose line was left free to sway in high winds and ultimately broke, Cal Fire found.
In the months after the fire, then CEO Bill Johnson told regulators that PG&E inspectors had checked the tower nearest the origin several times and found nothing amiss. “Sometimes things just break,” he said.
In a statement issued Thursday, the company reiterates the “transmission tower in question was inspected multiple times in 2019 as part of our Wildfire Safety Inspection Program—inspectors both climbed the tower and performed an inspection by reviewing photographs taken by an aerial drone. All issues that were identified on the tower in question were resolved prior to the Kincade Fire with the exception of one, which related to the painting of the tower.”
The company said it has cooperated with all the investigations surrounding the fire and is currently reviewing the search warrant and “will respond within the time requested.’’
“PG&E does not have access to the report Cal Fire provided to Sonoma County about the Kincade incident nor the evidence Cal Fire collected in its investigation,” the company said in the statement.