The US state's second largest ever wildfire was ignited by a tree hitting electrical distribution lines west of a dam in the Sierra Nevada, state authorities said.
Officials in the US state of California have concluded that Pacific Gas & Electric power lines sparked last summer's Dixie Fire that swept through five counties and burned more than 1,300 homes and other buildings.
The blaze was caused by a tree hitting electrical distribution lines west of a dam in the Sierra Nevada, where the blaze began on July 13, investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Tuesday.
Cal Fire said its investigative report was sent to the Butte County district attorney's office, which will determine whether criminal charges should be filed.
The finding was no surprise. PG&E already had indicated its equipment may have been involved in the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 3,900 square kilometres (1 million acres) in Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta, and Tehama counties.
It was the second-largest fire in state history.
“This tree was one of more than 8 million trees within strike distance to PG&E lines," PG&E said in a statement. “Regardless of today’s finding, we will continue to be tenacious in our efforts to stop fire ignitions from our equipment and to ensure that everyone and everything is always safe.”
The company said it has committed to burying 16,100 kilometers (10,000 miles) of power lines and taking other measures to help prevent wildfires.
Those have included shutting off power to thousands – and in one case, millions – of customers during periods of hot, dry weather coupled with high winds that can knock down trees or hurl branches into power lines.
Historic drought and recent heatwaves tied to climate change have made wildfires fiercer and harder to fight in the American West.
Blamed for several wildfires
PG&E equipment has been blamed for several of California’s largest and deadliest wildfires in recent years.
Last September, PG&E was charged with involuntary manslaughter and other crimes because its equipment sparked the Zogg Fire in September 2020 that killed four people and burned about 200 homes west of Redding.
Investigators blamed a pine tree that fell onto a PG&E distribution line. The company could be heavily fined if convicted.
Shasta and Tehama counties have sued the utility alleging negligence, saying PG&E had failed to remove the tree even though it had been marked for removal two years earlier.
The utility said the tree was subsequently cleared to stay.