State fire investigators confiscated parts of a tree near Pacific Gas and Electric Company power lines that may have been set for removal before the Zogg Fire started.
A federal judge investigating PG&E’s role in the cause of the blaze said the gray pine appeared to “loom” over power lines in the area where the fire started.
Earlier this month, the judge asked attorneys representing PG&E whether that was the same pine confiscated as evidence by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and whether the tree had been removed prior to the fire.
“PG&E currently believes the gray pine of interest may have been identified for removal (but not removed) during restoration efforts following the Carr Fire in 2018, based on certain records recently reviewed by PG&E concerning that restoration work,” according to PG&E’s reply to the judge’s questions.
Cal Fire officials have not determined the cause of the fire, which started Sept. 27 along Zogg Mine Road in Igo.
Pushed by strong winds, the blaze went on to burn more than 56,000 acres and kill four people. The fire also destroyed 204 buildings and damaged another 27, according to Cal Fire.
Federal Judge William Alsup of the U.S. Northern District Court of California, who oversees the company’s criminal probation stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion in San Bruno, has ordered the company to explain its role, if any, in the Zogg Fire.
PG&E officials said in their court filings there was still some uncertainty over whether the tree taken by Cal Fire was supposed to be removed.
The day the Zogg Fire started, PG&E had shut off power to several areas of Shasta County to prevent wind from damaging its power lines and possibly sparking a blaze, but, as first reported by the Record Searchlight, the utility did not cut power to the Zogg Mine Road area where the fire started.
The fire broke out about a quarter-mile southeast of the intersection of Jenny Bird Lane and Zogg Mine Road, according to PG&E.
A series of problems in SmartMeters and its power line on Zogg Mine Road began to unfold just minutes before fire was detected, according to earlier court filings.
In a report to Alsup in October, PG&E said the expected winds in the Igo area, where the fire broke out were not strong enough to warrant cutting power, called a “public safety power shutoff.”
“While no single factor determines whether an area will be included in a PSPS, generally the threshold includes sustained windspeeds above 25 mph and gusts over 45 mph,” PG&E said last month in its report to the judge.
The day of the fire, PG&E’s two nearest weather stations recorded winds less than 15 mph and gusts between 23 and 28 mph. The two stations are 3.6 and 4.7 miles from where the fire started.
A U.S. Forest Service weather station about 4 miles from where the fire started recorded sustained winds of 15 mph in the hour before the Zogg Fire and gusts of 32 mph.
After the fire, Cal Fire and law enforcement closed off Zogg Mine Road while fire investigators worked in the area.
A Cal Fire property report says the agency confiscated several pieces of PG&E equipment as evidence in its investigation and lists three SmartMeters, several lengths of conductor wire, shattered insulators, cross arm hardware from a power pole and a burned cross arm.
In their most recent filing last week, the lawyers told the judge that the company was still investigating whether the tree was supposed to be removed.
They did say, however, that in October 2018 tree removal in the area where the fire started was delayed when a resident “brandished a firearm to tree crews attempting to work in the area and was threatening to do so again,” the lawyers said.
And then in November 2018, the Camp Fire started, which drew PG&E resources away from Carr Fire work, according to court documents.
The Camp Fire, which Cal Fire determined was started by a PG&E transmission line, killed 85 people, destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings and torched more than 153,000 acres on a windy November morning.