CAL FIRE Investigators Determine the Cause of the Tubbs Fire
Jan 24, 2019
After an extensive and thorough investigation, CAL FIRE has determined the Tubbs Fire, which occurred during the October 2017 Fire Siege, was caused by a private electrical system adjacent to a residential structure.
CAL FIRE investigators did not identify any violations of state law, Public Resources Code, related to the cause of this fire. The Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County started on the evening of October 8th, 2017 and burned a total of 36,807 acres. Destroying 5,636 structures and resulting in 22 civilian fatalities and one firefighter injury.
In total, the October 2017 Fire Siege involved more than 170 fires and burned at least 245,000 acres in Northern California. Approximately 11,000 firefighters from 17 states and Australia helped battle the blazes. CAL FIRE investigators are dispatched with the initial attack resources to the wildfires in CAL FIRE jurisdiction and immediately begin working to determine their origin and cause.
TUBBS FIRE INVESTIGATIONSUMMARY
JohnMARTINEZ, Battalion Chief-CZU
Vince BERGLAND, Battalion Chief, CSR
Matt FRANKLIN, Fire Captain, BOU
Mark FRITS, Battalion Chief -TGU Scott LOHSE, Fire Captain-TGU
Greg ROATH, Fire Captain - SKU
MikeTHOMPSON, Battalion Chief - CNR
On the evening of Sunday, October 8, 2017 a red flag warning was in effect throughoutthe North Bay including Napa County. Temperatures that evening were in the 60's tolower ?O' s, with humidity in the 10-18% range. Wind models later preparedby CALFIRE Northern Operations Predictive Services estimated ridgetop winds could havereached 55 to 90 mph.
At approximately 9:41 P.M. Michelle HICKMAN (M. HICKMAN),a resident of Calistoga, CA reported a fire occurring in the area of Hwy 128 and Tubbs Road. The fire was named the Tubbs Fire and eventually burned 36,807 acres in both Napa and Sonoma Counties and destroyed 5636 structures including 4651 residential structures, 94 commercial properties and 891 outbuildings. The fire damaged an additional 230 residential structures, 22 commercial structures and 65 outbuildings. The Tubbs Fire included 22 civilian fatalities.
On October 9, 2017, I arrived at approximately 2:30 P.M. in Napa County to assist with the origin and cause investigation of the Tubbs Fire. On October 11, 2017 I was assigned as the lead investigator to conduct an origin and cause investigation for the Tubbs Fire. During the course of my investigation I located a General Origin Area(GOA) and subsequently a Specific Origin Area (SOA) on a privately-owned parcel off of Bennett Lane in Calistoga, CA.
After a thorough, systematic investigation, taking into account witness statements, opinions of experts, physical evidence, collected electronic data, and fire direction indicators, the SOA of the Tubbs fire is near the primary residential structure and immediate area surrounding the structure.
During my investigation, I eliminated all other causes for the Tubbs Fire, with the exception of an electrical caused fire originating from an unknown event affecting privately owned conductor or equipment.
WITNESSES:A full list of witnesses to the start of the fire are on the report with their testimonies.
EQUIPMENT: Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and privately owned electrical equipment was collected as evidence. Refer to evidence log (see attachment F) for a list of items collected.
The Tubbs Fire originated on the following property: (address redacted)
The property is an approximately 10.5-acre parcel situated in Napa County, approximately three miles north of Calistoga. It can be accessed from both Hwy 128 and Tubbs Lane. The entrance to the property is from a paved driveway off Bennett Lane identified by an address marker labeled "1128."
The surrounding area is rural residential setting and homes on larger parcels surrounded by mixed oak and conifer woodlands and vineyards . The property is largely undeveloped except for the upper slopes where the residence and associated outbuildings were located. The driveway continues up a south facing slope through oak woodlands, until it reaches a large one-half acre clearing below and east of the primary residence. Within the clearing, there are scattered conifers and oaks and little to no ground vegetation. Also within the clearing are both PG&E and privately owned utility poles.
The driveway continues past the cleared area and leads to the upper elevation of the property (approximately 550-feet elevation) where the residence and associated structures sit on top of a hill. The primary residence is located at the end of the driveway. Northwest of the residence is a wine cellar with an attached bedroom. Immediately west of the wine cellar is a swimming pool with an attached open construction pool patio. West of the residence is an open carport and garage.
According to accessor parcel data, the residence was built in 1946. The electrical distribution associated with the property includes PG&E service from uphill to the residence, by service drop to a weather head on the roof. From there, exterior conduit connects to the meter. From the meter, conduit carries conductor to a privately-owned power pole (private pole 3). From private pole 3, conductor extends northwest towards the wine cellar and pool patio. Additionally, from private pole 3, conductor extends southeast towards private pole 2, then to private pole 1 where the water tanks and pump station are located. From private pole 1, conductor extends downhill where it ties into a well next to Bennett Lane. The graphic (redacted) includes a general representation of the developed property and schematic of the electrical system.
For the full report- CAL Fire - Redacted Investigation Report: http://calfire.ca.gov/fire_protection/downloads/FireReports/17LNU010045_tubbs_le80_Redacted.pdf
An excellent article fromPepperwood Preserve Education Director Sandi Funkle describesThe Fire Triangle & Fire Behavioras part of her series on Fire Ecology for Non-Scientists. Pepperwood preserve is located very near to the start of the Tubbs Fire and had equipment in place to monitor air temperature, humidity, wind and also had cameras throughout the property recording data, as well as fire and wildlife movement.
Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, issued the following statement today on the Cal Fire finding that the 2017 Tubbs fire was caused by a private electric line and not PG&E utility equipment:
“This underscores the idea that we all have a role to play in wildfire prevention,” Sen. Bill Dodd said. “Regardless, it doesn’t negate the systemwide issues plaguing PG&E and the need for change in its leadership and culture. Afterall, Cal Fire previously found PG&E responsible for over a dozen Northern California wildfires and the cause of others remains under investigation.”
“We still need to understand what this means for PG&E’s financial health and whether it will continue to pursue bankruptcy protection,” Sen. Dodd said. “As always, my priority will be on preventing future wildfires and protecting Californians from unfair utility rate increases.”
Californians must remain vigilant and take on the responsibility to be prepared for wildfire at any time throughout the year. For more information on how to be prepared, visitwww.readyforwildfire.org or www.fire.ca.gov.
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