PG&E Power Line Hooks Are Worn and Rusty, Fire Victims Say

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(Bloomberg) -- A recent inspection of a PG&E Corp. transmission line uncovered equipment issues similar to those cited as the cause of the deadliest blaze in California history, according to lawyers for wildfire victims.

During a December inspection, an expert for the attorneys photographed worn and rusted c-hooks on a transmission line near the site of the deadly 2018 Camp Fire in the Sierra foothills, the official committee representing fire victims in PG&E’s bankruptcy said in a statement.

PG&E said the line poses “no immediate safety issues.” The company re-inspected the equipment the day after the attorneys raised concerns and is making repairs when it’s safe to remove the line from service, according to a statement.

The allegations from wildfire victims are noteworthy in part because the group has already reached a $13.5 billion settlement with PG&E over blazes that were blamed on its equipment and drove the utility into bankruptcy. The report comes as PG&E is trying to win approval from California Governor Gavin Newsom for its plan to emerge from Chapter 11.

PG&E Power Line Hooks Are Worn and Rusty, Fire Victims Say

“It contributes to the narrative that PG&E is a negligent manager,” Sandhill Strategy analyst Katie Bays said. That “makes it hard for politicians to support the utility’s bankruptcy exit plan.”

U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who oversees PG&E’s criminal probation, has ordered the company to be prepared to address the findings at a hearing on Feb. 19.

The inspector for the wildfire victims found the worn equipment on the Cresta-Rio Oso transmission line, according to the attorneys. It’s near a second power line -- the Caribou-Palermo line -- blamed for sparking the Camp Fire.

California investigators concluded last year that a worn c-hook led to the blaze, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. State regulators said that PG&E could have prevented it by conducting proper inspections and repairs.

In addition to rust and wear, the victims committee said early Thursday that some of the hooks on the Cresta-Rio Oso line “appeared to be held together by black electrical tape.” But the group later said that description was inaccurate.

Instead, the inspector found hooks that had tape on them for almost a year, indicating they hadn’t been replaced in that time frame, the committee said.

PG&E said the tape on the hook isn’t related to maintenance or repairs. Rather linemen sometimes wrap tape around hooks so they don’t inadvertently fall while other equipment is installed, the company said in its statement.

“The tape serves no functional purpose and if not removed is simply an artifact of the installation,” PG&E said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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