Investigators determine Southern California Edison power lines sparked deadly 2017 wildfire

Firefighters look at flames during the 2017 Thomas Fire.
(Image credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The 2017 Thomas Fire that killed two people and burned 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties was caused by Southern California Edison power lines, investigators announced Wednesday.

The Ventura County Fire Department and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found during a 13-month investigation that the fire was sparked on Dec. 4, during high winds. When two power lines "came into contact with each other," it created an "electrical arc," the Ventura County Fire Department said in a statement. "The electrical arc deposited hot, burning, or molten material on the ground, in a receptive fuel bed, causing the fire. The common term for this situation is called 'line slap,' and the power line in question is owned by Southern California Edison."


The fire wiped out vegetation north of Montecito, and when heavy rains came through on Jan. 9, 2018, they triggered mudslides. At least 20 people were killed when the hillside came tumbling down on homes below. As a result of the finding, Southern California Edison is now on the hook for $1.3 billion in insurance claims filed by victims of the Thomas Fire, and $400 million in claims related to the mudslides, the Los Angeles Times reports.

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