Faulty Hot Tub Wiring Sparked Deadly Valley Fire in Lake and Napa Counties

California officials say a hot tub's faulty wiring is to blame for one of the state's most destructive wildfires, a blaze that killed four people and destroyed more than 1,300 homes last year.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection released a detailed report Wednesday into the cause of the 120-square-mile wildfire that devastated a large portion of rural Lake County and parts of Napa County about 90 miles north of San Francisco in September 2015.

Investigators say the hot tub wiring wasn't installed in accordance with building codes. It ignited dry grass, they said.

"In the investigative report, it indicates that the homeowner did admit to installing the circuit himself," Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said.

The electrical fire was hot enough to melt a copper wire, more than 1,900 degrees, according to the report. It started a grass fire that found perfect conditions to spread. Steady winds, gusting to 36 mph, blowing embers, sparking other fires downwind, the report said.

The fire behavior was not expected, based on local weather predictions, the report said. That's being investigated by the fire research lab at San Jose State.

The Lake County District Attorney Don Anderson said he is considering filing criminal charges.

"It will be turned over to my legal staff to determine whether a crime has been committed, and whether the facts justify any charging of that individual," he said.

The fire was the state's third most destructive and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and businesses.

Investigators said it took nearly a year to identify the cause of the Valley Fire because they wanted to make sure they got it right.

"There was a lot of leads to follow up," Pimlott said. "There were rumors floating around about what started the fire ... a pot farm, a hash lab."

Meanwhile, residents are still trying to rebuild their lives and were urged not to be discouraged by Wednesday's developments.

"This has been an emotional time," said Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin. "This has been a tragedy that has effected everyone who lives in Lake County, both directly and indirectly."

Residents of hard-hit Middletown were no less devastated after learning of the cause, but they seemed to be forgiving.

"I don't wish any harm on anybody, so it's very unfortunate," said Chris Mullin. "But things happen."

"It's really upsetting to hear hundreds of people lost their houses for a hot tub but, I don't know, I guess accidents happen," resident Chelsea Garcia said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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