The heavy winds that downed power lines Sunday night at the start of the deadly wildfires raging across Northern California were far from “hurricane strength,” as PG&E has claimed, according to a review of weather station readings.

On Tuesday, the Bay Area News Group reported that Sonoma County emergency dispatchers sent fire crews to at least 10 reports of downed power lines and exploding transformers as the North Bay fires were starting around 9:22 p.m. In response, PG&E said that “hurricane strength winds in excess of 75 mph in some cases” had damaged their equipment, but they said it was too early to speculate what started the fires.

However, wind speeds were only about half that level, as the lines started to come down, the weather station records show. At a weather station in north Santa Rosa where the Tubbs Fire started, the wind gusts at 9:29 p.m. peaked at 30 mph. An hour later, they were 41 mph.

Similarly, at another weather station east of the city of Napa, on Atlas Peak, where the Atlas Fire started, wind gusts at 9:29 p.m. peaked at 32 mph. An hour later they were 30 mph.

Both speeds were substantially under the speed specified in state law: Power lines must be able to withstand winds of at least 56 mph.

“This is classic PG&E — trying to spin things without first taking a look at the hard facts,” said Burlingame attorney Frank Pitre. “The winds were well within the threshold of design standards. If they failed, this was a failure in their system.”

Investigators are looking at power line failures as a possible cause of the historic fires.

PG&E officials did not respond to specific questions Thursday about the wind speeds and whether their power lines were in compliance with state safety laws.

“There will likely be reviews of these wildfires by the appropriate agencies, but right now we are focused on life safety and service restoration,” said PG&E Donald Cutler.

Pitre sued PG&E after the utility was found responsible by the state Public Utilities Commission for starting the Butte Fire in Amador County in 2015 because of the utility’s failure to maintain its power lines. That fire burned for 22 days, killing two people, destroying 549 homes and charring 70,868 acres. The PUC fined PG&E $8.3 million and Cal Fire sent PG&E a bill for $90 million to cover state firefighting costs.

Meanwhile, the “hurricane strength winds” that PG&E referenced are …read more

Source:: East Bay – Science

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California fires: PG&E power lines fell in winds that weren’t ‘hurricane strength’

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