Judge questions PG&E over its equipment failure near Kincade Fire

A federal judge wants Pacific Gas and Electric to explain what role its equipment may have played in sparking the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County.

In a court order filed Monday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup asked the utility if it was plausible the fire was sparked by a broken “jumper cable” found on the transmission tower near the ignition point in the hills outside Geyserville. A jumper cable is the wire that connects two high-voltage lines, which are held aloft by the tower's arms.

In the filing, Alsup asked if an energized jumper cable that breaks could it spark or cause electrical arcing. He also wanted to know when the wire in question was last inspected and whether the public should “now be worried that other jumper cables inspected in the same manner have potential failures that have gone undetected.”

On October 24, one day after the Kincade Fire broke out, PG&E filed a report with the CPUC saying it discovered a broken "jumper cable" on a high-voltage tower in the area around 9:20 p.m. on the night the fire started. The flames broke out about ten minute later.

On Friday, workers were spotted scaling the PG&E transmission tower believed to be involved in the ignition of the Kincade Fire. SkyFOX captured video of multiple PG&E trucks and about a dozen workers performing unknown maintenance or repairs on the tower near Kincade and Burned Mountain Roads.

The utility is investigating whether the broken equipment contributed to sparking Kincade fire. On Friday, a PG&E spokeswoman would only say that Cal Fire is investigating the cause, and PG&E is "cooperating with that investigation."

The federal judge has given the utility until November 29 to answer his questions about the jumper cable. Judge Alsup is overseeing PG&E’s criminal probation for violations federal pipeline safety in the wake of the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.