SAN FRANCISCO — The photo shows the failure that caused 85 people to burn to death: a gloved hand holds a rusty, broken metal hook with a stenciled "PG&E" marking in the background.
The photograph, published Thursday, provides the first close-up look the public has seen of the root cause of the 2018 Camp Fire, which became the deadliest wildfire in California history when it destroyed the town of Paradise and the surrounding communities of Concow and Magalia.
In a recent report, state regulators blamed PG&E for 12 violations in causing that fire. The report says the evidence shows that more than half of the thickness of the metal in the hook had worn away where it hung from the tower, weakening the hook to the point that it broke in the high wind. That caused sparks to fall onto the dry brush below, spreading quickly into the nearby forest due to the speed of the wind and dryness of the plants in the area.
The report also blamed PG&E for allowing the wear on that hook to go unnoticed.
"PG&E failed to inspect the tower and the C-hook thoroughly to identify the deterioration," the report from CPUC's safety division said.
The photo of the damaged part became public on the orders of Judge William Alsup, who's currently supervising PG&E's punishment for a series of federal crimes. A jury convicted the company of six federal felonies tied to the San Bruno gas explosion, which killed eight people in 2010.
As a result, PG&E was sentenced to five years of probation and given a court-appointed monitor who keeps tabs on the company's operations.
Alsup is ordering PG&E to provide more specifics in the wake of the CPUC report.
"How closely did any drone inspect the C-hook in question prior to the Camp Fire? Are the images available? If so, provide the ones that show the C-hook in question," the judge wrote in his list of six questions to PG&E.
The judge also demanded to know if PG&E keeps records of the age of C-hooks and the plates they hang from, whether PG&E had noticed any worn hooks and plates before, whether PG&E kept any examples, and other technical details about the specific part that failed.
"We remain deeply sorry about the role our equipment had in this tragedy," PG&E said this year on the 1-year anniversary of the fire. "We apologize to all those impacted by the devastating Camp Fire."
PG&E's answers are due by noon on December 19.
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