The devastating Thomas Fire who killed two people and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings northwest of Los Angeles in December 2017, was fueled by power lines owned by Southern California Edison Co., firefighters said Wednesday.
An investigation into the origin of the fire discovered that high winds blew Edison's high-voltage lines, creating an electric arc that covered "hot, burning or molten matter" in dry vegetation on the ground, causing the flames to fall, the fire brigade said from Ventura County, in a statement.
In a 70-plus page report, researchers also cited various potential criminal offenses by Edison in connection with the fire, including involuntary manslaughter, reckless arson and a breach of the health code for causing careless or negligent fire-causing.
An assessment by the Public Prosecutor General will decide whether criminal charges will be filed.
The company has acknowledged that witnesses have seen a roadside verge near an Edison power post at one of the points of origin of the fire around the time it started, and that its equipment was accompanied by ignition of the fire.
But in a statement on Wednesday, Edison said that a second firing point that is not connected to the utility's power lines may have been independently responsible for a significant portion of the damage caused by the total fire.
"A definitive determination of cause and responsibility will only take place through the legal process," Edison said.
The investigation was conducted jointly by provincial and national fire brigade officers and the American Forest Service.
The report came a day after prosecutors in four Northern California provinces said they had found insufficient evidence to tax another large utility company, PG & E Corp., in a separate firestorm that was ignited by his high-voltage lines in October 2017.
PG&E, seeking bankruptcy protection against billions of dollars in potential civil liability for those fires, was cited for breaches of the security code that resulted from eight fires for which it was being investigated. Just like the Thomas Fire, the so-called North Bay fires were driven two months earlier by extremely high winds.
The Thomas Blaze burned for nearly 40 days as it threatened the cities of Santa Paula, Ventura, Ojai and Fillmore, scorching nearly 282,000 acres in the suburbs of the Ventura and Santa Barbara along the southern California coastline.
At the height of the fire, more than 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes, and as many as 9,000 firefighters and rescuers fought the eruption, with crews from all over the Western United States sent to help.
One fireman and one civilian died in the eruption, which for some time was the largest forest fire in the history of the state in terms of burnt acreage.
Mudslides unleashed by torrential rains that flooded the fire-ridden area in January, have swallowed dozens of houses and killed at least 20 people.
The utility and parent company, Edison International, recorded a charge of $ 4.7 billion before recoveries and taxes in the fourth quarter due to forest fires.
(Reporting by Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Jonathan Oatis and James Dalgleish)
Do you want to stay informed?
Receive the latest news about insurance
sent directly to your inbox.