Guy Wires Slated for Study as Possible Factor in Malibu Wildfire Starts
• SCE Supports Call for New Look at Equipment Regulations that Would Be Applicable Statewide
BY ANNE SOBLE
BY ANNE SOBLE
The Public Utilities Commission, the state agency that regulates utility companies, is investigating the possibility that guy wires, the cables that connect the wood power poles that dot the landscape throughout the state, can spark brush fires in strong wind conditions.
Electrical wiring experts have raised the issue of guy wire culpability in the context of the multi-millions of dollars in insurance settlements being paid in the wake of the rush of Southern California conflagrations in late 2007, including Malibu’s Canyon Fire, whose starting point was reportedly a downed pole.
Power companies across the nation use similar cabling systems, but some of these firms are also asking for technical review of current regulations in the face of mounting liability concerns and the realization that wildfire is now a year-round phenomenon in many parts of the country, including Malibu and the rest of Southern California.
Although power lines failed during last October’s hurricane-force winds in Malibu, there has not been any formal determination that the guy-wire systems were the weak point.
State investigators have still not completed their study of the cause of the Canyon Fire in Malibu, but firefighters are on record as stating that the fire spread from a Southern California Edison power pole that fell in the 75-mph winds.
Residents near the downed line, including longtime local Ed Meyer, indicated that pole had been leaning over, and had complained to regulators before the fire that the wires might be insufficient.
State officials have tentatively indicated that preliminary studies by insurance industry experts may lead to some rule changes.
The PUC’s Consumer Protection and Safety Division is expected to initiate action to formalize further study and consider formal recommendations for guy-wire requirements.
Gil Alexander, a spokesperson at SCE’s corporate offices, told the Malibu Surfside News this week that the company has not been contacted by the PUC on this issue yet.
He said the company maintains that “our guy wires are installed and maintained in full compliance with G.O. 95 guidelines,” the state regulations for utilities.
However, Alexander added that SCE “supports” the call made late last year by the San Diego Gas and Electric Company—hardest hit by wildfires—for a review of these guidelines and what in utility jargon is called “a PUC Order Instituting a Rulemaking” that could result in an overhaul of rules on guy wires. The commission has not yet responded to this call for action.