Fairview fire may have been caused by utility equipment, attorney alleges – San Bernardino Sun

A report filed by Southern California Edison hours after the Fairview fire started Monday, Sept. 5, is “very strong evidence” the utility’s infrastructure ignited the deadly blaze, a lawyer who has sued the utility alleged.

While the fire’s cause is still under investigation and Edison’s required report to the California Public Utilities Commission is not an admission of guilt, Alex Robertson, who has represented plaintiffs in lawsuits against Edison over other wildfires, said similar filings “always predated” fires linked to the utility.

Edison spokesperson Gabriela Ornelas said the utility’s information “reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire.” She did not elaborate on what that meant.

“Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by the Fairview fire, especially those who have lost loved ones and suffered injuries,” Ornelas said, adding that safety is Edison’s top priority and “we continue to make progress in our wildfire-mitigation efforts …”

Two people were reported killed and one injured in the fire, which had grown to 4,000 acres as of Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 6, with 5% containment. The fire forced the Tuesday closure of Hemet-area schools and mandatory evacuations east of Diamond Valley Lake.

Edison filed its report at 8:13 p.m. Monday, almost five hours after the fire was reported.

“Out of an abundance of caution, SCE submits this report as it involves an event that may meet the significant public attention and/or media coverage reporting requirement,” states the report filed via email.

State regulations require Edison to file the report, said Robertson, who has an office in Westlake Village.

“It’s supposed to be within hours of any fire where they have reason to believe their electrical facilities might be involved,” he said.

The term circuit activity, Robertson said, “is really code for an electrical arcing event,” which can happen when an energized conductor or power line comes into contact with another piece of equipment on a power pole.

“It’s an extremely hot event,” he said. “It melts the aluminum power lines and molten pieces of those aluminum power lines then drip and drop into the dry vegetation beneath and start the fires.”

Faults on Edison’s electric lines are recorded on their computer system, Robertson said. “It will actually pinpoint the precise location of where that electrical event happened.”

With Edison blamed for a number of massive California wildfires in recent years, including the 2017 Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and the 2018 Woolsey fire in Malibu, Edison has emphasized its fire-prevention efforts, including covering 3,500 miles of bare wire in its 50,000-square-mile service area with plans to have 6,500 miles of covered power lines by 2024.

Edison plans to kick off Operation Santa Ana, a partnership with fire agencies to inspect trees near power lines in areas with a high wildfire risk, next week in Romoland. According to Edison, the utility inspects 1.5 million trees annually and prunes 900,000 of them.

In July, Edison, which will shut off power during periods of high winds to prevent power lines from sparking fires, said it lowered the probability of losses from catastrophic wildfires by 65% to 70% compared to before 2018.

But Robertson said he’s found “negligent inspection and maintenance of (Edison’s) aging infrastructure” during the discovery phase of lawsuits.

“Edison has deferred maintenance on a vast majority of their service territory,” he said. “And because of that, their equipment has been failing and it typically fails when there’s a wind event and we find that there was a problem either with their power poles or their power lines.”

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