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Report released for Powerhouse Fire

Posted: July 15, 2014 7:23 p.m.
Updated: July 15, 2014 7:23 p.m.

A damaged insulator and visible signs of arcing on a power line conductor found near where the Powerhouse Fire started are among the reasons the blaze was determined to be caused by power lines, according to a report released Tuesday.

In its official report of investigation on the Powerhouse Fire, U.S. Forest Service officials outlined the steps taken to investigate the 30,000-plus-acre wildfire and the reasons they believe the blaze was caused by power lines near a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power plant.

The report also states that DWP’s Power Plant No. 1 off San Francisquito Canyon Road noted a “fault/trip event” minutes before the fire was first reported on May 30, 2013, and that responders noted gusty wind conditions in the area at the time.

“All other fire cause categories were investigated and excluded,” the report states.

The Powerhouse Fire, so named because it started near DWP Power Plant No. 1 off San Francisquito Canyon Road, burned roughly 30,275 acres in and around the communities of Lake Hughes, Elizabeth Lake and Green Valley, destroyed 58 structures and left 10 people with minor injuries, according to the report.

A collection of those affected by the Powerhouse Fire filed a suit against the DWP earlier this year, alleging that “facilities, wires, lines, equipment, infrastructure and other public improvements, as deliberately designed and constructed, present an inherent danger and risk of fire to private property” and that the department took “a known, calculated risk that private property would be damaged and destroyed by fire.”

In a statement, DWP officials said their information reflects that the power poles and related equipment were replaced in 2008. “Therefore, LADWP equipment age does not appear to be a causal factor.”

The department’s own investigation is still ongoing, the statement reads, but it has been determined that “a 2.4 kilovolt power system distribution line experienced an interruption known as a ‘relay’ within the time frame before the initial fire was discovered and reported.”

However, the statement continues, personnel from DWP and the Forest Service who immediately responded to the fire’s location found no DWP wires fallen to the ground.

It is not uncommon for a relay to occur after a fire has started due to soot and ash interrupting the power flow, the statement says.

“We are deeply concerned for those residents who lost homes and property and understand that they want closure,” said DWP General Manager Marcie Edwards in the statement issued Tuesday. “The USFS report is a step in the process of determining what occurred.

“It is our hope that more will be known in the near future about the potential cause of the fire after the equipment is inspected,” the statement continues. “If it is determined that our equipment was involved in the start of the fire, we will evaluate the damage claims accordingly.”

Power Plant No. 1, built in 1917, is a hydroelectric plant located on the Los Angeles aqueduct that currently generates power for Los Angeles.
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