One day before the devastating fires began in Paradise, California, resident Betsy Ann Cowley received an email from her utility provider, Pacific Gas & Electric, saying they needed access to her property to deal with utility lines that were sparking.
The investigation into what started the fire is still ongoing.
From the Associated Press:
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. What is known is that it started Thursday near Cowley's property in the tiny town of Pulga, incinerated the neighboring town of Paradise and killed dozens of people.
On Monday, fire investigators declared the area surrounding power lines on Cowley's property, in an oak-filled canyon, a crime scene. Security guards would not let PG&E inspectors pass.
Cowley said she was on vacation last Wednesday when she got a surprise email from PG&E. Details of that exchange, described to The Associated Press, combined with the utility's track record in California wildfire history has again brought the company under scrutiny.
The email said that crews needed to come to her property to work on the high-power lines, Cowley said. PG&E told her "they were having problems with sparks," she said. They visited her property but she said she wasn't there Wednesday and was not aware of their findings.
Cowley was back at the property Monday and expressed gratitude at finding most of the 65 structures on it still standing, just a few hundred feet from the crime scene where investigators worked to determine what had happened to spark the massive fire.
The former landscaper bought Pulga, an abandoned and decrepit historic gold prospecting town, in 2015 and embarked on a project that transformed it into a picturesque private destination. She cleared overgrown brush, patched up buildings and added new ones. With Bay Area artists and architects, she recreated a town, complete with a stage and school house. And then, a year ago, she opened for business, renting out Pulga for corporate retreats.
PG&E has said publicly that they had issues with an electrical transmission line near Crowley's property minutes before the fire began. CalFire has confirmed that the area where the fire started is the same spot that PG&E said the sparks occurred.
The utility company had previously said it was going to shut down power in nine counties because of fire danger but they never did.
"If PG&E is found responsible for burning down the state again, at some point we have to say enough is enough and we have to ask should this company be allowed to do business in California?" Longtime PG&E critic and Democratic State Sen. Jerry Hill told the AP. "These fires take a spark, and at least in the last few years fires have been caused by negligent behavior by PG&E. We need to see how we can hold them responsible, or look at alternative way of doing business."
The California Public Utilities Commission is evaluating PG&E's facility maintenance, vegetation management and emergency response. But this is not the first time the utility company's practices have come under fire.
PG&E is currently on the hook for several of last year's fires that killed 44. They have to pay more than $2.5 billion for those fires alone.
Editor's note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Camp Fire started by an unattended camp fire. It was in fact named after Camp Creek Road, where the fire began.