The federal judge overseeing PG&E’s probation for rule violations has ordered the utility to answer more questions about the worn-out C-hook that failed last year and started the campfire, in a follow-up to PG&E’s disclosure of damaged hooks.
The company on Thursday released a photo of the failed C-Hook, which the judge ordered to blame for the fire, though the photo was redacted from the state’s regulatory report last week at the request of Butte County prosecutors, who are still investigating the fire had been. On Friday, the company released a second photo, which was withheld from the state report at the request of prosecutors.
The photo shows a second worn hook on a tower about three miles away — a hook that hasn’t failed but state regulators have determined it poses an imminent safety risk that PG&E inspections missed.
In the state report, CPUC regulators noted that PG&E’s “inadequate” inspections of the tower, which failed, “suggest a general pattern of inadequate inspection and maintenance of PG&E’s transmission facilities.”
A worn hook from tower #24/199 on PG&E’s Caribou Palermo line. Another hook on the line failed in November 2018, causing the campfire.
PG&E inspections after the fire found worn hooks and deteriorating steel suspension plates holding the hooks to the towers on the Caribou-Palermo line. State regulators concluded that had proper inspections been carried out, the worn hook attached to the fire would have been discovered and the fire would likely have been prevented.
When this worn hook snapped on tower 27/222, the dangling line struck the structure, setting off an explosion and the fire that destroyed the city of Paradise.
On Thursday, US Judge William Alsup asked follow-up questions about the state’s regulatory report, specifically the condition and previous inspections of the failed hook, and gave PG&E until December 19 to respond.
Alsup asked about the second hook on the tower that didn’t fail and some questions about the hook that broke. He wants the provider to say how high off the ground the failed hook was, whether they conducted a drone inspection before the fire and what pictures, if any, were taken.
PG&E has previously said the tower was inspected by helicopter and ground patrols but had not been climbed in the decade before the fire.
“Did PG&E keep records prior to the campfire that would allow PG&E to determine how long the C-hooks and/or hanger plates in question had been in place?” Alsup asked the utility, also asking if the company had “ever noticed worn C-hooks and/or hanger plates on one of his transmission lines”.
Alsup also asked whether worn-out C-hooks had been kept as evidence.
The photo released on Friday is of tower #24/199, which state regulators said had been carried beyond accepted safety margins and was seized during ongoing criminal investigations.
According to state reports, the wear and tear was missed during emergency climbing inspections ordered by the company in the weeks following the fire. It was only found during Cal Fire inspections ordered as part of the Camp Fire Probe.
During PG&E’s post-fire inspections, the company identified 29 towers on the line with problems that posed an immediate risk of failure. The company has since shut down the line.