by Matt Charnock
Northern California has seen more than its fair share of catastrophic wildfires over the past few years, sparked by drier-than-average ground conditions, warming temperatures, and, quite frankly, PG&E’s own doings. The Tubbs Fire in and around Santa Rosa in October 2017 was deemed to be the only large scale Wine Country wildfire not caused by PG&E-owned equipment — but recently unearthed surveillance footage has CalFire investigators thinking otherwise.
Originally believed to be the result of a private electrical system, the final CalFire report cemented that the fire originated on the hilltop home 91-year-old Ann Zink.
The exact coordinates where the Tubbs Fire originated, unfortunately, eluded authorities. However, freshly acquired security footage from Bennett Lane Winery shows the exact spot where the flash was spotted on the surveillance camera corresponds to PG&E pole 773, erected near the entrance to the Zink property. And, to add insult to injury, the left side of that same pole is still scorched.
The “arc flash,” too, can be seen coming into the frame around 9:20 pm, a mere 20 minutes before authorities first reported the blaze that would later grow into one of California's deadliest wildfires.
“It’s identical to lightning — it’s a small piece of lightning,” said Bernard Cuzzillo, a mechanical engineer and fire science expert who reviewed the winery video, to NBC Bay Area of the field pyromantic catalyst.
In their final report, CalFire concluded that two of the 25 amp fuses blew inside PG&E pole 773, but it was deemed not to have caused the fire.
Instead, CalFire investigators claimed that Zink’s nearby not-to-code, poorly constructed private power system was at fault, never mind that even the agency themselves admitted they couldn't deduce how that system might have triggered the fire.
"With the 25 amp fuses blown, there’s no electricity going to the residence,” Cuzzillo explained. “So the substandard wiring doesn’t matter after the fuses blow.”
Now, at the very least, there appears to be evidence that not only was PG&E responsible for all of NorCal’s devastating wildfires, but Zink’s own “subpar” electrical system on her 10.5-acre property isn’t to blame, with Cuzzilo saying “[It would be an] amazing coincidence” if PG&E pole 773’s arc flash wasn’t related to the Santa Rosa fire.
Electrical engineering consultant Dan Mulkey, who at one time use to be employed by PG&E, added to NBC Bay Area’s coverage that the flash on display in this surveillance film is reason enough to raise an eyebrow
“With everything going on in a storm, you’re not going to find everything out that you’d like to,” Mulkey says, adding that this newly acquired evidence is grounds to dust-off the now-closed case.