Investigators and lawsuits have cited two origin points for the destructive Thomas Fire, and on Tuesday, Southern California Edison Co. released statements admitting its equipment was involved in one of them.
The blaze started on Dec. 4, 2017, in Ventura County, with two fires reported in the Santa Paula area near Thomas Aquinas College that soon merged to become the Thomas Fire, according to fire officials.
SCE officials said Tuesday that the company believes its equipment was associated with an ignition point along Koenigstein Road, near a power pole.
CalFire removed SCE equipment from the area and the company hasn’t yet inspected it to determine a specific cause, SCE officials said in a statement Tuesday.
“CalFire has also removed SCE equipment located in the Anlauf Canyon area, which SCE has likewise not been able to inspect,” the company said of the Steckel Park area, where the second origin point is believed to be located.
“We know, as we shared today, our equipment played a role in the Koenigstein Road ignition point, but that’s all we’ve been able to conclude at this point,” said Pedro Pizarro, Edison International president and CEO, in a teleconference Tuesday.
The cause of the Thomas Fire is being investigated by multiple agencies, including CalFire and the Ventura County Fire Department.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against SCE related to the Thomas Fire and the subsequent Montecito debris flows, including a class-action suit that claims Edison construction crews sparked the blaze Dec. 4 while working near Steckel Park, north of Santa Paula.
Another case claims Edison pole-mounted transformers exploded and/or caught fire on Anlauf Canyon Road (near Steckel Park) and on Koenigstein Drive, about six miles away.
Santa Barbara attorney Joseph Liebman, whose firm is one of many representing victims of the fire and debris flows, released a statement Tuesday in response to SCE’s.
“This admission by SCE that SCE caused the fire is admissible in court, and will be binding on SCE so far is liability is concerned in the lawsuits against SCE brought by our clients,” he wrote.
SCE’s third-quarter report also summarizes wildfire mitigation plans that include replacing 600 miles of bare wire in high fire risk areas with insulated wire by the end of 2020, installing cameras and weather stations for “situational awareness,” and installing current-limiting fuses to boost reliability.
SCE recently announced plans to implement Public Safety Power Shutoffs, a strategy to turn off power to certain areas during “extreme fire conditions.”
The company’s Grid Safety and Resiliency Program proposes sending notifications before, during and after a shutoff, and “deploying portable community power trailers” so customers can charge their phones, laptops and other devices during outages.
The Thomas Fire scorched 281,893 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 residences in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. It was California’s largest officially recorded wildfire for less than a year, being surpassed by the massive Mendocino Complex fires in Northern California this summer, which burned 459,123 acres.
Emergency and weather officials have long recognized the risks of post-fire floods and debris flows, and held winter preparedness events last week to remind local residents of the ongoing threat that intense rainfall poses for the fire-denuded hillsides along the South Coast.
Earlier this month, the county’s Office of Emergency Management released a temporary debris flow evacuation map for the South Coast and advised residents to sign up for emergency alerts from the county.