Jan. 5 – Cal Fire investigators determined that a tree contacting Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power lines caused last summer’s Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 1 million acres and destroyed more than 1,300 homes and buildings in five Northern California counties.

The fire, which started July 13, burned 963,309 acres in Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta, and Tehama counties. The wildfire — the largest of 2021 and the second largest in California’s history — destroyed 1,329 structures during a three-month rampage. It devoured much of the tiny Plumas County town of Greenville.

Investigators determined the tree contacted electrical distribution lines owned and operated by PG&E west of Cresta Dam along the Feather River in Plumas County, the agency said.

The findings add to PG&E’s legal woes. The state’s largest utility pleaded guilty to criminal manslaughter charges in connection with the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise and is under indictment in the 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County and the 2020 Zogg Fire in Shasta County.

The investigative report has been forwarded to the Butte County District Attorney’s Office, Cal Fire said. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento is also investigating the company’s role in the Dixie Fire.

PG&E, which had acknowledged for months that the likely cause was a tree brushing against power equipment, said late Tuesday that the Dixie Fire has prompted the utility to step up its wildfire-safety efforts.

“As we shared in our public statement in Chico in July after the start of the Dixie Fire, a large tree struck one of our normally operating lines,” the company said Tuesday. “This tree was one of more than 8 million trees within strike distance to PG&E lines. Taking a bold step forward, PG&E has committed to burying 10,000 miles of lines in addition to the mitigations included in PG&E’s 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan.”

Besides announcing the plan to bury lines underground, the company ratcheted up the sensitivity on circuit breakers throughout its service territory, triggering hundreds of blackouts when equipment came into contact with trees, animals or other objects. With fire season over, PG&E has dialed back the circuit breakers.

The company has said inspections prior to the fire had turned up no problems with the tree — which was alive at the time of the fire — or the power equipment.

In a recent interview, PG&E Chief Executive Patti Poppe said the Dixie Fire was evidence of the overwhelming risks posed by climate change. She said the tree that brushed the power line was still alive, and the fire started on a day when winds were calm and there were no “red flag warnings” from the National Weather Service.

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