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Gas Co. to foot Sesnon firefighting bill?

October 17, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Investigators are probing the cause of the Porter Ranch fire. And it looks like high winds early Monday knocked down a power pole on Oat Mountain. Sparks from the wires then ignited the brush. In most circumstances, the brush would have been cleared. But not in this case.It turns on a quirk in state law: The Public Utilities Commission requires electric companies to keep brush cleared from under the lines. But the wire the wind toppled here, although electric, is owned by the gas company, and so it is not covered by the law.

Porter Ranch residents can't believe it.

"Well I think everyone needs to clean their brush out," said one resident.

"Well, you've got regulations here and not there, and it should be on both," said another resident.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky thinks the loophole needs to be closed.

"If it can't be done by the state, if we have the jurisdiction to do it at the local level, I would propose, at least for the County of Los Angeles, that all of the areas of unincorporated County of Los Angeles be regulated in that way," said L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Dozens of recent fires have been sparked by downed power lines. Last year's incredibly destructive Witch Creek Fire in San Diego County started when a San Diego gas and electric utility wire fell. The first of two fires in Malibu last fall started when an Edison wire fell.

Zaroslavsky says the solution is to put power lines underground.

"How many fires, how many burned homes, how many injured or killed firefighters and other citizens of our communities do we need before we do something about it?" asked Yaroslavsky.

Los Angeles fire officials said Friday that if the cause holds up, it will send a bill to Southern California Gas Company for the cost of fighting the blaze.

Friday, the utility said in a statement:

"The ignition source of the fire is still under investigation. The Gas Company is cooperating fully with that investigation. The power line is maintained by a third-party contractor. The line supplies power to offices and facilities at the Aliso Canyon natural-gas storage center," wrote Jennifer Brisco, Southern California Gas Co.

Laying utility wire underground is very expensive. It's estimated at up to a million dollars a mile. But so fires are also very costly. So it comes down to a question of priorities.

 

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