The Gold Nugget Museum, which was totally demolished by the Camp Fire, is shown in Paradise, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. A lawsuit was filed Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, over a wildfire in Northern California, where at least 48 people were confirmed dead in the Camp Fire that obliterated the town of Paradise. The suit on behalf of some victims accuses Pacific Gas & Electric Co. of causing the massive blaze.(AP Photo/Martha Mendoza)

PG&E says it contacted resident about shut-off power line

November 14, 2018 - 4:54 pm

CHICO, California (AP) — A utility accused in a lawsuit of igniting California's deadliest and most destructive wildfire said it contacted a customer about a power line on her property but that sparks were not part of the discussion.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said it had been in touch with Betsy Ann Cowley to inform her about future planned work on a power line that had been shut down.

Cowley has said the utility emailed her last Wednesday, a day before the blaze ignited, about getting access to her property in the tiny private resort town of Pulga to work on some lines. Cowley said the utility had told her they had problems with sparks.

"We have not seen anything that includes a discussion with the customer in question about 'sparks' and PG&E infrastructure," PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty said in an emailed statement Tuesday evening.

The cause of the fire that killed at least 48 people and largely destroyed the town of Paradise is still under investigation, but PG&E has come under scrutiny.

Shares of the utility plunged more than 20 percent in Wednesday trading after it said in a regulatory filing that it could face a significant financial hit if its equipment is found to be the cause of the blaze.

Fire investigators have blamed PG&E equipment for 12 wildfires in Northern California wine country last fall, including two that killed a total of 15 people. It's also facing dozens of lawsuits stemming from those fires.

People whose homes were destroyed in the recent blaze sued PG&E on Tuesday, accusing it of negligence for failing to properly inspect and manage its power lines and blaming it for the fire.

In a filing to state regulators, the utility said it had detected an outage on an electrical transmission line minutes before and close to where the blaze broke out. It said a subsequent aerial inspection detected damage to a transmission tower on the line.

PG&E said that line is different from the one on Cowley's property but did not offer details on the relationship or the distance between the two.

"Based on our initial review, the email correspondence with the customer in question was about future planned work on a different transmission line in the area," Doherty said Tuesday. "That line had previously been de-energized and was not operational when the Camp Fire started."

He said he was trying to get answers to requests for details about why and when it was disconnected from the power supply or how many lines go through the area.

The area where state firefighting officials says the blaze started appears to be on or adjacent to Cowley's property. State fire investigators have blocked access to the area, which is considered a crime scene.

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