The Southern California Edison electric services company took responsibility on Tuesday for being one of the causes of the Thomas Fire that tore through the Santa Barbara and Ventura counties last December.
“SCE believes its electrical equipment was associated with an ignition near Koenigstein Road in Santa Paula — one of at least two origin points for the Thomas Fire,” Southern California Edison (SCE) said in press release sent out on Tuesday.
However, the statement noted that there were other factors that contributed to the Thomas Fire, including dry vegetation, high temperatures and strong winds.
“Wildfire risk is increasing at the same time as more and more residential and commercial development is occurring in some of the highest-risk areas — with over a quarter of SCE’s service territory in high fire risk areas identified on the CPUC’s (California Public Utilities Commision) fire risk maps,” the press release stated.
SCE is now awaiting permission from the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to further their investigation into the causes of the Thomas Fire.
According to the press release, CAL FIRE has removed equipment located near Koenigstein Road, so SCE has not yet been able to inspect it. “SCE will not be able to determine the specific cause of the Koenigstein Road ignition until it can analyze the equipment currently in CAL FIRE’s possession.”
According to the press release, SCE is conducting an ongoing study regarding the causes of the Thomas Fire. This study takes an in-depth look into possible ignition points and fire progression from each point, among other factors.
SCE is one of the largest electric utility companies in the U.S., serving about 15 million customers in Southern California, according to the press release.
The Thomas Fire devastated the Santa Barbara area last December, burning over 281,893 acres of land. It was the largest fire in California history at the time, until it was surpassed by the Mendocino Complex Fire in July 2018.
During the fire, UC Santa Barbara opened its recreation center to evacuees from the Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
UCSB’s Associated Students Senate also allocated over $2,000 to students who needed to return home because of the fire. UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang later cancelled finals week for Fall Quarter 2018 due to the unsafe conditions on campus.
The fire burned the soil, preventing it from being able to absorb the heavy rainfall that followed, thus leading to the Montecito mudslides which killed over 20 people in January and forced thousands to evacuate.
The findings come as SCE faces multiple charges relating to the Thomas Fire, including from attorneys representing local residents and the City of Ventura.