Report details cause of deadly California wildfire

Ventura County Star

Published 7:01 PM EDT Mar 13, 2019

CAMARILLO, Calif. — Power lines owned by Southern California Edison sparked the Thomas Fire, according to a report released Wednesday by the Ventura County Fire Department. 

According to the report, the blaze started in two spots and eventually merged into one fire. One was in a canyon above Steckel Park in the Santa Paula area and where first responders were sent when the blaze broke out at about 6:30 p.m. Dec. 4, 2017. The second spot was on Koenigstein Road near Highway 150. 

Rumors swirled that equipment owned and operated by Southern California Edison was to blame for the blaze that spanned both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The report those rumors about the wildfire that claimed the lives of Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson and Santa Paula resident Virginia Pesola. 

More: Lawsuits allege Southern California Edison negligently started Thomas fire

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The blaze began Dec. 4, 2017, as Santa Ana winds blew through the area. Over the next several weeks, as the gusts continued, flames scorched 281,893 acres and destroyed 1,063 structures — many of them homes in Ventura. 

Pesola, 70, was fleeing the flames when her car crashed in a mandatory evacuation zone on Wheeler Canyon Road about two miles north of Foothill Road. Her burned body was found at the scene of the crash on Dec. 6, 2017. About a week later, Iverson, 32, died when he became trapped by flames while battling flare-ups above Fillmore on Dec. 14, 2017. 

Although the official report had not yet been released, hundreds of plaintiffs named Edison and its parent company Edison International in lawsuits alleging the companies’ negligence and liability in causing the blaze. Attorneys representing those homeowners, insurance companies, ranchers, and city and county entities expect the issuance of the report to cause more people to take legal action. 

The report also has a bearing on plaintiffs who have filed similar suits against the Los Angeles County-based utility company over the Montecito mudslides on Jan. 9, 2018. The plaintiffs say the fire left the vegetation in the canyons above Montecito barren and the soil unable to hold water, which triggered a deadly debris flow during a brief but powerful storm. 

Edison has not previously commented on the allegations, citing the ongoing litigation and the lack of an official report by fire investigators. However, the company said in October that its equipment was associated with the Koenigstein Road ignition point.

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Follow Megan Diskin on Twitter: @megandiskin  

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