PG&E says it 'strongly disagrees' delayed maintenance played role in Camp Fire

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - PG&E Corp PCG.N said in court papers on Wednesday that it "strongly disagrees" with a suggestion in a Wall Street Journal article that the company knowingly deferred maintenance on equipment that caused California's Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California's modern history.

FILE PHOTO: PG&E works on power lines to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

PG&E filed the papers to answer an order by U.S. District Judge William Alsup demanding the power provider respond to the article, which reported PG&E did not upgrade parts of its electrical grid that it was aware could spark wildfires.

“PG&E strongly disagrees with the WSJ article’s suggestion that PG&E knew of the specific maintenance conditions that caused the Camp Fire and nonetheless deferred work that would have addressed those conditions,” the company said.

San Francisco-based PG&E said the article’s implication that delayed planned maintenance that could have averted November’s Camp Fire is based on a misunderstanding of that work on a transmission line and tower.

“The purpose of that work was not to identify and fix worn or broken parts, such as the hook on the transmission tower that failed and caused the Camp Fire to ignite,” PG&E said.

“Rather, the purpose of that work was to address the clearance between transmission line conductors and from transmission line conductors to the ground,” PG&E said.

PG&E also said it “denies the generalized assertion that it repeatedly failed to perform the necessary upgrades to prevent failures on its transmission lines.”

A Wall Street Journal spokesman told Reuters by email the newspaper was reviewing PG&E’s court papers.

Alsup on July 10 demanded PG&E give him a “fresh, forthright statement owning up to the true extent of the Wall Street Journal report” published that day.

The article reported PG&E delayed maintenance and improvements on aging power-lines and towers in recent years.

According to the article, PG&E was aware in 2017 it needed to improve maintenance and replace equipment to avoid failures causing fires following a historic drought in California.

A failure of one PG&E power line in November caused the Camp Fire, which killed more than 80 people and destroyed the town of Paradise.

Alsup is overseeing PG&E’s probation stemming from its conviction over a deadly 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion. He has been pressing PG&E for answers on its safety measures in response to massive wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that forced the company into bankruptcy in January in separate proceedings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Francisco.

Reporting by Jim Christie; Editing by Leslie Adler, Grant McCool and Cynthia Osterman