California Department of Justice Closes Criminal Investigation Into the Woolsey Fire
SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Justice (CADOJ) today announced that it will not pursue criminal charges against Southern California Edison after investigating the role its equipment played in igniting the 2018 Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. The Woolsey Fire burned 96,949 acres of land, destroyed 1,643 structures, killed three Californians, and prompted the evacuation of more than 295,000 people. The California Attorney General’s Office and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in conjunction with the Ventura County Fire Department, conducted a thorough investigation into the origin and cause of this destructive wildfire. Based on that investigation, CADOJ has determined that there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution. Officials from CADOJ have informed the families of the three individuals who perished in the fire of this decision.
The investigation involved the examination of video footage of the fire; taking statements from responding fire personnel, experts involved in investigating the fire, and witnesses to the events; and the review of physical and scientific evidence from the fire and the results of autopsies. Consistent with the scientific findings contained in the report issued by Cal Fire and the Ventura County Fire Department, investigators determined that electrical and communication equipment owned by Southern California Edison caused the Woolsey Fire. Specifically, the evidence revealed that high winds caused a loose guy wire near Southern California Edison’s equipment to contact energized conductors on a lightweight steel pool, which resulted in electrical arcing that caused the first ignition. (A guy wire is a non-energized, tensioned cable used to stabilize utility poles and electrical equipment.) Southern California Edison’s poor vegetation control near its communication conductor lines also contributed to a second ignition point when those lines became energized by the first arcing event.
CADOJ’s extensive investigation, however, revealed insufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Southern California Edison violated Section 452 of the Penal Code by unlawfully causing a fire or committed any other felony violation of California law. Section 452 would require prosecutors to not only prove that Southern California Edison’s equipment caused the fire, but also that the company was aware that its actions presented a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire, that it ignored this risk, and that doing so was a gross deviation from what a reasonable utility would have done in the same situation.
Acknowledging the tragic loss of life and offering condolences to the families, the California Attorney General’s Office has therefore closed the investigation into this matter.