Power lines owned by Southern California Edison are responsible for the Thomas Fire, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

The Thomas Fire tore through the Ventura and Santa Barbra Counties in December 2017, burning thousands of buildings and causing hazardous air quality. Sicheng Wang / Daily Nexus

The department, which released a statement regarding the fire’s cause on Wednesday, said that the fire was started by “power lines coming into contact during high winds.”

“A high wind event caused the power lines to come into contact with each other, creating an electrical arc. The electrical arc deposited hot, burning or molten material onto the ground, in a receptive fuel bed, causing the fire,” the press release stated.

The department said this type of contact between power lines is commonly called a “line slap.”

Southern California Edison admitted in October 2018 that its equipment was likely “one of at least two origin points for the Thomas Fire,” but it was not until Wednesday’s announcement that it was officially confirmed by fire investigators.

Wednesday’s findings leave Southern California Edison liable for both the $1.3 billion in insurance claims filed by victims of Thomas Fire and the $400 million in claims filed after the Montecito mudslides, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The fire, which tore through the Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties in late 2017 and early 2018, grew to over 281,893 acres between its start on Dec. 4, 2017, at 6:28 p.m. and its end on Jan. 12, 2018.

It displaced thousands of individuals and caused county-wide evacuations. Ultimately, the fire burned 1,063 structures and subsequently caused the Montecito mudslides, which resulted in the death of 20 people.

During one power outage, I.V. residents took to the streets to burn fireworks, couches and more. McLane Brown / Daily Nexus 

The fire also caused hundreds of power outages across the Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and later led to the cancellation of Fall Quarter 2017 finals at UC Santa Barbara.

Chancellor Henry T. Yang’s decision to cancel finals week was due in part to the numerous power outages experienced in the days following the start of the Thomas Fire; in one instance, UCSB and I.V. lost power over 10 times in one night due to the fire.

During one such power outage, thousands of I.V. residents swarmed Del Playa Drive to blast music, set off fireworks and burn two couches, one chair and a dumpster.

While UCSB and I.V. did not receive evacuation orders, the area, along with the rest of Santa Barbara county, faced hazardous air quality.

A more detailed report about the fire’s investigation will be “available as soon as possible,” according to the department.


Evelyn Spence
Evelyn Spence harbors a great love for em dashes and runs on nothing but iced coffee, Jolly Ranchers and breaking news. She serves as the managing editor and can be reached at evelyn@dailynexus.com, managing@dailynexus.com or at @evelynrosesc on Twitter.