LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — Federal investigators are looking into whether a huge wildfire in the Angeles National Forest was sparked by Southern California Edison utility equipment, according to the company.
Edison has turned over a section of an overhead conductor from its transmission facility in the area where the Bobcat Fire started more than two weeks ago, company spokesman David Song said Wednesday.
The initial report of fire was near Cogswell Dam in the San Gabriel Mountains at 12:21 p.m. on Sept. 6.
The utility says five minutes earlier, at 12:16 p.m., a circuit at the substation experienced a possible disturbance or event. Edison says cameras captured smoke developing in the area around 12:10 p.m., prior to the activity on Edison’s circuit.
A circuit at a nearby substation experienced a “relay operation,” indicating its equipment detected some kind of disturbance or event, Song said.
Cameras captured smoke developing in the area around 12:10 p.m., prior to the activity on Edison’s circuit, he said.
Residents along the San Gabriel Valley have been dealing with the smoke and health hazards for several days.
“You could not see the mountain behind us, which is about two blocks from our house,” resident Katie Johnson told CBSLA.
Edison will assist the U.S. Forest Service in its investigation of the fire that has burned more than two dozen homes and other buildings on its way to becoming one of the largest blazes in Los Angeles County history.
“Southern California Edison understands this is a difficult time for the many people who are being impacted by the Bobcat fire,” Song said. “Our thoughts are also with those affected by the wildfires currently burning across the western United States.”
The Forest Service and the Public Utilities Commission didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking more information.
In recent years California utilities have strategically shut off power to some areas in order to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires. Edison did not have any planned shutoffs in the days before the Bobcat fire erupted.
“Maybe the public utility commission could step in and be a little more active in regulating their performance,” said resident David Johnson.
Firefighters are finally starting to tame the blaze, with containment on Wednesday hitting 39% — a jump from just 17% a day earlier.
Crews took advantage of two days of calmer weather after erratic winds last weekend pushed flames out of the Angeles National Forest and into communities in the desert foothills, fire spokesman Larry Smith said Wednesday.
“Because the fire transferred out of the timber and into the light fuels near the desert, we were able to make some real progress,” Smith said. Crews will shore up containment lines ahead of hotter, gusty weather predicted for the weekend, he said.
Those who live in the area say they’ve seen firsthand how hard crews are working, but they think there’s more that could be done to keep residents safe.
Thousands of residents remain under evacuation orders and warnings. It’s one of dozens of other major wildfires across the West, including five in California that are among the largest in state history.
Last November, Southern California Edison agreed to pay $360 million to settle lawsuits brought by local governments over deadly wildfires sparked by its equipment in the last two years, including the Thomas Fire in 2017 and the 2018 Woolsey Fire.
(Copyright 2020 CBS Corp. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)