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Southern California Edison power lines sparked deadly Thomas fire, investigators find

Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

In the report released Wednesday, investigators said the Thomas fire first began as two separate fires that joined together and burned for 40 days. They determined the utility was responsible for both ignitions.

"We understand the ramifications around releasing information and making statements in this official report. ... It was very thorough," said Ventura County Fire Capt. Stan Ziegler. He said he was not aware of the evidence Edison said it had in its possession to dispute the findings.

Southern California Edison officials have said they will work with insurance companies to handle the thousands of claims that have accumulated since the Thomas fire and mudflow. The company is protected from going bankrupt over the disasters, thanks to a law signed during the summer that passes excess liability costs on to utility customers.

California's largest utilities have fallen under increasing criticism over their role in a series of major wildfires.

Last month, Pacific Gas and Electric said its equipment would probably be found responsible for igniting the deadly Camp fire in Butte County on Nov. 8, 2018. PG&E equipment was also responsible for many of the wine country fires in 2017. The company has declared bankruptcy to help shield itself from a mountain of financial liability.

In 2007, San Diego Gas and Electric equipment caused the Witch fire that burned hundreds of homes and led to 2,000 lawsuits. The company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars shoring up its grid to prevent a repeat of that disaster.

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Despite its own recent efforts to protect its power grid, Edison was recently accused of being responsible for November's Woolsey fire that ripped through Malibu. The investigation into the cause of that fire remains ongoing.

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