Saturday, March 22, 2008

News: Witch Creek Fire - Guy wires possible cause

Still No Cause Known for Witch Creek Fire

Five months after the San Diego Witch Creek Fire, there is still no official cause, according to CalFire case supervisor and Battalion Chief Jim Garrett.
Garrett said power lines played a part, but southern California utilities engineer Ed Clark, who is also a former SDG&E expert witness believes he has the answer. Clark says unless corrections are made, San Diego will see more fires.

Clark was asked to investigate the fires for an insurance company, and says, “What we discovered was something that has to be fixed right away, otherwise, there's going to be more fires starting.” He believes the Witch Creek, and possibly other fires, started with a design flaw.

“Arcing goes on right in this particular area,” explains Clark, pointing to the metal bracket which anchors a power pole guy wire to the ground. “So as the pole swings in high winds, you're making contact and breaking contact.” He shows how dry brush and grass grows up along the guy wire, and creates a fuse to other dry brush. “The dry grass grows up inside here, and you get low humidity, dry winds, it ignites.”

Clark claims the guy wire design on several power poles along a line in eastern San Diego County cause a continuous path for electricity, and therefore, the potential for arcing. He says breaking the path by moving a metal bolt just a foot would prevent arcing, and cost less than $50,000 total.

“There's definitely a problem with the 69KV Line that needs to be addressed,” says property owner Glenn Drown. But he isn’t convinced Clark is on the right track. “I just know what I saw. The area that I saw burn, a couple of hours after [the Witch Creek Fire] actually started.”

San Diego Gas & Electric spokesperson Stephanie Donovan says SDG&E disagrees with Clark’s perspective. Donovan says “We don't believe the scenario he outlined would cause the problem that he has suggested...and it's highly unlikely there would be enough current generated through the common bolt and the guy wire loop to cause arcing."

California Public Utilities Commission spokesman Tom Hall also said the agency is investigating guy wires, and the cause of the fires of fall 2007, however declined to further elaborate.

But while the parties are investigating, Clark believes the weather conditions could be leading up to “the perfect storm.”

Jim Garrett says CalFire has ruled out arcing guy wires as the cause of the Witch Creek Fire, but Clark insists if there’s even any doubt, something should be done.

“Someone else is going to get hurt. Someone else is going to lose a loved one. Someone's going to lose a home.


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