In February 2015, tree cutters working for PG&E were supposed to remove trees from a grove that threatened power lines. But they left standing a tree in the middle of that grove – a 44-foot tall grey pine that had a diameter of about 5 inches at the base that was leaning toward the lines. Over the following months, the tree leaned further and further until, on September 9, 2015, it made contact with one of the lines and sparked the disastrous Butte Fire.
The tree itself was not burned in the fire. CalFire crews cut it down, sectioned it into 6 pieces, and have stored it, along with the wire it contacted, in an evidence locker at CalFire’s headquarters.
On a misty morning on February 17, 2016, experts, PG&E’s lawyers and insurers, and the Butte Trial Lawyers were allowed to view, photograph, and weigh the tree. Nobody was really sure why the tree was being weighed five months after the fire, but that’s what PG&E’s insurance companies wanted to do. The photo to the right shows the scorched tip of the tree where it came in contact with the wire.
While the wire was being inspected and photographed under a microscope, a huge gust of wind scattered a stack of coolers
across the parking lot. Then there was a loud “boom" and the lights went out. One of the experts, an electrical engineer, immediately identified the noise as a power line circuit breaker blowing.
Several lawyers and experts walked down the driveway to the CalFire headquarters to the road. About 150 feet up the road, this is what they saw – a tree that had blown down onto a power line and shorted it out. PG&E’s chief lawyer was on the phone immediately to PG&E to send a crew. It only took them 45 minutes to show up. Meanwhile, the tree started smoking!
All this time PG&E has been claiming it has taken adequate steps to trim trees so as to protect its power lines. And then this, with PG&E’s lawyers and insurers all as witnesses. So you decide: Coincidence or something more?