Southern California Edison has issued a statement in response to a press release issued by the Riverside County Fire Department in cooperation with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) on the 2017 Liberty Fire.
The fire impacted 300 acres and destroyed one structure and one outbuilding.
According to the utility’s ongoing internal review, its equipment was involved in the ignition of the Liberty Fire; however, this does not mean that the firm failed to observe proper practices or comply with the law.
While it may not always be possible to reach conclusions about the origin and cause, in this case we do know that the Liberty Fire began during a period of strong Santa Ana wind conditions with red flag warnings in effect in an area severely impacted by years of historic drought.
Based on our ongoing internal review, ignition appears to have occurred when an electrical event occurred at a pole. The area on the pole under review appeared to contain bird nesting material not visible from the ground. The cause of the electrical event, including whether and to what extent the bird nesting material may have been a factor, remains under review by Southern California Edison (SCE).
Without the benefit of CAL FIRE’s actual report, it is impossible for SCE to comment further.
With the increasingly serious, ever-growing wildfire threat to California, it is unmistakably clear that further work needs to be done to develop thoughtful, comprehensive policies to address this statewide problem.
While the state legislature has taken an important initial step to mitigate wildfire risks through the passage of SB 901 (Dodd, D-Napa), much more work is needed to address the critical issues of prevention, response and liability through the new Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery established under SB 901. Without continued focus, the wildfire threat will only become more acute as our climate continues to change.
SCE strongly supports the increased funding for fire suppression and improved forest and land use management policies included in SB 901. SCE will continue to invest in hardening our infrastructure and implementing industry-leading safety practices, as demonstrated by the recent Grid Safety and Resiliency Program filing at the California
Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and in alignment with the wildfire mitigation plans required by SB 901. We believe the state can do more, including enacting fire-smart building codes, particularly in high fire risk areas, and ensuring the proper allocation of legal responsibility — including SCE’s where appropriate — for the often-tragic consequences of wildfires.
SCE’s Efforts at Managing the Wildfire Threat in California
The safety of our customers, communities and employees is our top priority and a core value for SCE. SCE’s employees work vigilantly year-round to strengthen our system and protect the public and our employees against a variety of natural and man-made threats.
We have long taken substantial steps to reduce the risk of wildfires in our service territory and continue to look for ways to enhance our operational practices and infrastructure. SCE employs design and construction standards, vegetation management practices and other operational practices to mitigate wildfire risk, and has collaborative partnerships with fire agencies to maintain fire safety.
SCE has a comprehensive maintenance and inspection program approved by the CPUC, which includes annual line patrols and more detailed inspections at least every five years.
For the Liberty Fire, SCE conducted timely inspections and continues to evaluate what happened, including the role of weather conditions or other factors in the ignition of this fire.
Many Factors Contribute to Rising Wildfire Risk
Multiple factors contribute to wildfires in our service territory and throughout California. This includes the build-up of dry vegetation in areas severely impacted by years of historic drought; the failure of multiple responsible parties to clear the build-up of what have essentially become hazardous fuels; increasing temperatures; lower humidity; and strong Santa Ana winds. Such factors can trigger wildfire for a variety of reasons and strain utility facilities, no matter how well designed, constructed and maintained. Wildfire risk is increasing at the same time more and more residential and commercial development is occurring in some of the highest-risk areas — with over a quarter of SCE’s service territory in high fire risk areas identified on the CPUC’s fire risk maps.