WHISTLEBLOWER: SDG&E QUIETLY CHANGED OUT DESIGN FLAW AT SITE OF PARADISE FIRE

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Electrical expert asks if same changes have been made along other

lines he identified as fire risks; SDG&E does not

respond to inquiries

 

June 14, 2010 (San Diego) – Back in February 2009, East County Magazine published claims by electrical transmission expert Ed Clark, who contended that faulty power line installations caused the Paradise, Witch and Cedar Fires. Clark and two other experts consulted by ECM contended that SDG&E installations of two down-guy wires connected by a single bolt were dangerous.

 

Clark, who has headed up power line installations for Southern California Edison and served as an expert witness for SDG&E, argued that SDG&E's installations were also illegal, violating a state rule requiring 12 inches of separation on poles. He provided evidence of arcing including charred, black marks on anchor bolts at the base of the pole where the 2003 Paradise fire began.

 

At the time, SDG&E spokesperson Stephanie Donovan called Clark’s arguments “full of holes” and insisted that federal standards for 69 kv transmission lines “require a common bolt.” Now, however, Clark has sent ECM photos and a letter revealing that SDG&E has replaced the pole where the Paradise Fire began with a new pole.“It’s two down-guy wires connected by two different bolts in two different locations,” Clark said in a phone interview in mid-May. “They changed this and no doubt hoped no one would ever even notice.”

 

Clark suspects changes were made after SDG&E's recent settlement of a class action lawsuit to avoid further liability for the fires. “It is imperative to verify whether or not the poles along Transmission Line 637 that involves the 2007 Witch Creek and 2003 Cedar Fires have been replaced as well, prior to the fire season,” the electrical expert advised.

 

SDG&E did not respond to multiple interview requests from ECM. We specifically asked why the pole in question was replaced with an installation Donovan previously said would violate federal standards, but that Clark argued was needed to protect public safety. We also asked if similar changes have been made along Transmission Line 637, but received no reply.

 

Officially, the Cedar Fire was blamed on a lost hunter who fired off a flare gun, then passed out. Clark, who has visited the site previously, said he observed a power pole with similar evidence seen at the Paradise Fire ignition site. The Witch Creek Fire’s official cause was two power lines blowing together. The Paradise Fire has been blamed on arson. The wildfires were among the worst in California history, charring hundreds of thousands of acres, leaving thousands homeless, and sparking the most massive evacuation in U.S. history from a natural disaster. 
 

Clark was hired by an insurance company and a law firm to investigation causes of the fires.  Alarmed at his findings, he met with SDG&E to request that corrective action be taken to protect public safety. He also notified state regulators and other authorities.

 

In a letter sent to ECM, Clark praised ECM’s investigation and publication of his findings, also faulting the PUC and Cal-Fire for omitting his findings from their public reports. “The good news is that SDG&E has replaced a pole that eventually would have started another fire,” he said. “Hopefully they have accepted responsibility and done the same on Transmission Line 637 at the start of the Witch Creek fire and the Cedar fire.” The poles where those fires began are on private property and not readily accessible for public inspection.
 

But Clark added, “The bad news is, in my opinion, this is the perfect corporate cover up. “SDG&E has spent a lot of time and money trying to discredit me and diverting attention by not addressing this issue, yet they have gone out and fixed the problem under the radar without anyone’s knowledge…I will assume that the pole as changed after existing class action lawsuits were settled which might eliminate future claims on this issue attempting to divert the exposure of excessive liability and forcing others to pay for what they caused."

 

He concluded, "I believe your article, which was the first to tell what I had believed to be the entire story, combined with other coverage from local media, has made a difference, at least where the Paradise fire was concerned.”