In a letter to the legislature sent on 12/28/17, PG&E stated it would continue to expand its pilot program disabling recloser devices. State investigators are investigating the cause of the wine country fires and PG&E power lines are believed to have started or contributed to the deadly wild fires in October 2017. There are dozens of reports of damaged or sparking power lines and transformers across Sonoma County on October 8 and October 9, 2017.
Local power lines are programmed to restart themselves in case service is interrupted even if they are tangled in a tree or knocked to the ground. Devices called reclosers are similar to automatic circuit breakers. They send electricity pulses through the lines that tripped off. If the lines are in contact with tree branches or brush on the ground, the pulses of electricity can start a fire.
The recloser devices have been found to be potential causes of past wild fires including the 2007 Witch Fire in San Diego County where a damaged transmission line sent hot particles on to a dry grassy field in a rural area east of Escondido, California. As a result of that fire, San Diego Gas & Electric Company along with Southern California Edison have reprogrammed their reclosers during the fire season so they don’t automatically restart power lines in high fire risk areas.
In May 2017 PG&E started a pilot program to disable reclosers in high risk wildfire areas. The program was on only 38 of several thousand devices as of October 2017. It is unknown if any reclosers in the pilot shutoff program were located in Napa or Sonoma County. PG&E has the ability to disable most of its reclosers remotely.
The California legislature well hold hearings in early 2018 to investigate the program to disable recloser devices in high risk fire areas and to look at additional safety measures. Many homeowners who lost their homes to the wine country wildfires have filed lawsuits against PG&E for negligently maintaining its equipment. For more information about this story see the San Francisco Chronicle article by Joaquin Palomino dated 12/30/17.
The Van Blois & Associates firm has successfully pursued PG&E negligent acts in the past and has achieved large damage awards for the firms clients.