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Utility Involvement in SoCal Wildfires Uncertain

Earlier reports of possible involvement of Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) equipment in the start of the Creek fire in Southern California were found to be inaccurate as the transmission line equipment in question belongs to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), and the city-run utility said that equipment did not spark or go down in the fire.

Two homeowners in the foothills north of Los Angeles where the Creek fire started earlier this month reported seeing an electric transmission line fall into the brush and spark, and after at first being incorrectly labeled as SCE facilities, the owner/operator of that equipment, LADWP, strongly denies that one of its lines went down in the area.

"Our line was not severed, it relayed due to [excess amounts of] smoke an hour after the Creek fire was first reported to the county fire department, which at that time was already covering 50 acres," said LADWP spokesperson Joe Ramallo. "When our line relayed, we took it out of service and left it off until Dec. 7, when it was returned to normal services. There was no damage to the [500 kV] line."

Unlike SCE, LADWP as of last Saturday had not been notified by any authorities that its equipment was part of the ongoing investigations into the causes of the Southern California fires.

SCE said state fire officials had informed the Edison International utility that some of its equipment is being investigated for its potential role in the fires. The statewide fire authority CAL FIRE, various local fire agencies and the California Public Utilities Commission are all investigating the causes for the fires.

"SCE believes the investigations now include the possible role of its facilities," an SCE utility spokesperson said.

Five wildfires have roared over four Southern California counties, including the Thomas fire, by far the largest, longest running and most destructive.

Red Flag (fire danger) and high wind warnings continued Saturday for parts of the region and for the area affected by Thomas, which has burned more than 250,000 acres. Since that fire began almost two weeks ago, SCE crews and other utilities have worked closely with first responders to access areas when they are deemed safe to repair damaged equipment and infrastructure.

As of early last Saturday morning, Thomas was continuing to threaten SCE transmission lines serving Santa Barbara, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles. In total, more than 4,200 customers were still without power, most of them in the Thomas fire area of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

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