Cal Fire investigators appear to have found the general area where the Glass Fire first ignited around 3:30 a.m. on September 27. A PG&E transmission line runs through the area, but an initial investigation has not pointed immediately to PG&E equipment as the likely culprit, for a change.
The area under investigation is the 200 block of North Fork Crystal Springs Road, a narrow lane off of the Silverado Trail north of St. Helena. As the Chronicle reports, PG&E personnel were on the scene with fire investigators on Wednesday, and some PG&E poles were downed in the area. But PG&E has already issued a statement saying there is no indication that their transmission lines were to blame in the fire.
The Chronicle piece includes two photos of a machine shed of some kind that was completely burned and which sat very close to the probable ignition point.
The Mercury News somewhat backs up the PG&E claim, noting that PG&E has "a transmission line running through northern Napa County that crosses over North Fork Crystal Springs Road, and runs between the reservoir and Silverado Trail," but power remained on in the area and the "larger transmission line appeared to be intact." Unlike in the Kincade Fire or Camp Fire incidents, PG&E has not reported any equipment malfunctions in the area within an hour of the fire.
Two residents further up North Fork Crystal Springs Road, Janice Zakin and her husband, described a harrowing escape to the Mercury News in which they were blocked from driving out of the flames by a neighbor's car that was left burning in the middle of the narrow road. They were ultimately saved by firefighters who cut a hole in a fence and ushered them through. Zakin noted that the power was still on when they evacuated because their electric gate was still working.
Still, the two downed power poles with smaller power lines are cause for suspicion, and it would not necessarily take a main transmission line to create a spark in high winds. Power was shut off Saturday night and into Sunday in the Sierra foothills, but PG&E announced a decision not to cut power in the North Bay hills, to the confusion of some residents given the wind prediction. PG&E did not shut power to this part of Napa until around 4 a.m. Sunday, at Cal Fire's request.
KTVU reports that neighbors first saw the flames in the vicinity of a well-known vineyard that is surrounded by electric fencing. The property on the southern slope of Howell Mountain reportedly belongs to Cakebread Cellars, and a company spokesperson said they were "cooperating with and providing information to Cal Fire." Cal Fire investigators were apparently focused on equipment near this electric fence.
Update: Cakebread Cellars issued a statement saying, "We have seen media accounts that associate one of our properties with a current Cal Fire investigation in Napa County. To be clear, Cal Fire has informed us that it is looking at a number of properties along with ours and has yet to conclude its investigation. This indicates to us that Cal Fire has not identified a particular origin or cause."
A spokesperson for Cal Fire, Robert Foxworthy, said, "I know our investigators are out there currently trying to track down and eliminate all the things that didn’t start it and figure out what it was that did."
The investigation could take many months or up to a year or more to complete.
It took nine months for Cal Fire to conclude that a PG&E line was the cause of the 2019 Kincade Fire, but PG&E still has not officially accepted responsibility or disputed the Cal Fire report.