As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California took time during a hearing yesterday to question the PG&E employee on record for having found a tree fallen on a power line at the origin point of the massive Dixie Fire still burning across the northern Sierra Nevada. Now ranked as the largest wildfire in California’s recorded history, the Dixie blaze has burned more than 960,000 acres and destroyed over 1,300 buildings, while threatening 1,500 more.

Judge Alsup sought to determine whether the fire resulted from a failure by PG&E to promptly switch off part of the damaged power line located in Feather River Canyon, where the Dixie Fire started two months ago. The employee being questioned is reported to have found spreading flames, blown fuses, and a Douglas fir leaning on the power line in question. Judge Alsup asked both the line worker and PG&E’s attorneys why it took the utility company so long to reach the fire’s origin point, and why no one suspected that a tree might have been the culprit: “How come it took so long to get somebody there, and once they were there…  wasn’t it the smart thing to do to turn that power off?”

The Judge also noted in the record that PG&E had ranked that particular stretch of wires 11 out of 3,635 circuit sections where equipment failure could start a fire, and 568 out of 3,074 circuit sections that could start a fire because of fallen vegetation. The power line passes through a high fire-threat area — east of the town of Paradise, which was nearly decimated after another PG&E power line ignited the 2018 Camp Fire.

“It was known there was a fault on the line. You didn’t know what the fault was yet. It was hard to get to, in a high fire danger area,” Alsup said. “In those circumstances, wouldn’t the prudent thing to have done would be to play it safe (and) turn the power off until you find the fault?”

PG&E’s reply is not noted.

Read the full article on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website.

Californians directly affected by the fire: Learn more about your rights, and Lieff Cabraser’s work representing victims of the 2021 Dixie fire.

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