More details about the cause of the Powerhouse Fire became available Monday, 14 months after the wildfire north of Santa Clarita destroyed nearly 30 homes and damaged 30 more.
The report was released by USDA Forest Service officials after receiving a Freedom of Information Act Request.
“A fault/trip event was logged by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Power Plant One, minutes before the initial report of fire,” according to the report. “Gusty wind conditions were observed by responding fire personnel; and visible signs of arcing were observed on a power line conductor in the area of the initial fire attack.
“A damaged insulator was found attached to the same power line with visible signs of arcing. The investigation determined the cause of the fire to be power lines. All other fire cause categories were investigated and excluded.”
The Powerhouse Fire began May 30, 2013, near the community of Green Valley. Firefighters reported full containment on June 10, 2013.
“The first responders to the Powerhouse Fire found it confined to an area in the immediate vicinity of the of the Camp Service 2.4kv power line run, just south of San Francisquito Road,” according to the report. “Upon arrival at the scene of the fire, (a first responder) observed a loose conductor swaying in the wind located on the same circuit that had two documented overcurrent events immediately before the fire started.”
More than 30,000 acres burned, destroying 58 structures and causing minor injuries to ten people, according to the report.
“Power lines, discolored conductors with signs of arcing, and a damaged insulator were all documented by investigators in the general origin area. Additionally, two overcurrent trip events occurred immediately before the fire was reported,” according to the report. “All fire causes were considered, investigated and evaluated during the Powerhouse Fire investigation. The cause was determined to be electrical wires creating a competent ignition source, all other causes were excluded.
A LADWP employee stated in an interview in the report “there are many policies and procedures at LADWP.” The employee said “he had been doing the job so long that he knows that if a trip happens you inspect the line.”
A lawsuit was brought forth by the law offices of Gerard Singleton in April of this year.
The law firm is awaiting permission for full access to the facility so its experts can conduct their own investigation, according to Singleton.
“Whether or not they did anything negligent, that we won’t know until we have our inspection,” SIngleton said. “”We won’t really know until we can inspect the lines,” Singleton said. “We have an inspection set up for June, but we had to file within the one-year.”
The fire destroyed nearly 100 acres at the Painted Turtle camp and forced officials to cancel the 2013 season events. The Painted Turtle Camp is on of Singleton’s clients.
Southern California Edison lost 137 of its utility poles during the fire, causing a power outage.
A hydroelectric plant located on the Los Angeles aqueduct, it was built in 1917. The area has not experienced a major fire since the 1920s which resulted in a significant fuel for the fire after the weekend winds caused the fire to spread rapidly. The power plant currently produces approximately 45 megawatts of power.
LAWDP Press Release
The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power is reviewing the investigative report released today by the United States Forest Service (USFS) into the cause of the 2013 Powerhouse Fire. LADWP is also continuing its own investigation into all potential causes of the fire and the conditions that led to the fire’s rapid spread.
As indicated in the report, the LADWP furnished the Forest Service investigators with all information that was requested over the course of their investigation including interviews of LADWP staff in the area. The LADWP will continue to assist in any subsequent aspects of the investigation. Information provided by LADWP to USFS includes the age of the equipment in the area of the fire. Presently, LADWP information reflects the power poles and related equipment in the area of the fire were replaced in approximately 2008; therefore, LADWP equipment age does not appear to be a causal factor.
While LADWP’s own investigation remains ongoing, it has determined that a 2.4 kilovolt power system distribution line experienced an interruption known as a “relay” within the timeframe before the initial fire was discovered and reported. LADWP and USFS personnel who immediately responded to the fire location found no LADWP wires had fallen to the ground. LADWP equipment was removed at the request of the USFS and has not yet been examined by experts.
It should be noted that it is not uncommon for electric distribution lines near a fire to relay after a fire has started due to ash and soot causing an interruption in the flow of electricity over the lines. It is far less probable for a line that never severed or fell to the ground to generate enough of a spark to ignite a fire on the ground. There are no known witnesses to the fire starting.
“We are deeply concerned for those residents who lost homes and property and understand that they want closure,” said LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards. “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. If it is determined that our equipment was involved in the start of the fire, we will evaluate the damage claims accordingly.”
Background on Powerhouse Fire
The Powerhouse fire started near LADWP’s historic Power Plant 1 in the San Francisquito Canyon in the late afternoon of May 30, 2013. It was discovered by an LADWP employee and promptly reported. Winds during the weekend fanned the fire causing its rapid spread to over 50 square miles. An LADWP-owned employee home was among the 24 homes destroyed by the fire.
Powerhouse No. 1 located near where the fire started, is the original power plant for the municipal utility. A hydroelectric plant located on the Los Angeles aqueduct, it was built in 1917. The area has not experienced a major fire since the 1920s which resulted in a significant fuel for the fire after the weekend winds caused the fire to spread rapidly. The power plant currently produces approximately 45 megawatts of power.
– Jessica Boyer