SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal investigators seized a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. utility transmission pole and attached equipment as part of a criminal investigation into what started a fire in the northern California that became the largest in the state this year, the utility said. in a regulatory filing on Monday.

U.S. Forest Service officials told PG&E that an initial assessment showed the Mosquito Fire started near one of its power lines on National Forest Land, the Oakland-based utility said in its statement. filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Federal investigators removed the pole and equipment Saturday, the utility said.

The Mosquito Fire burned 120 square miles (310 square kilometers) and was 85% contained on Monday.

The fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills, about 180 miles northeast of San Francisco, erupted Sept. 6 and destroyed at least 78 homes and other structures and charred forests in Placer and San Francisco counties. Eldorado.

Earlier this month, the blaze surpassed the size of the previous largest conflagration in 2022 – the McKinney Fire – although this season has seen a fraction of the country’s wildfire activity so far. last year. Fire officials said full containment of the Mosquito Fire is expected around October 15.

PG&E is cooperating with the US Forest Service investigation, which has not yet determined what caused the fire, the utility said in a statement Monday.

The utility said it was conducting its own investigation into what started the fire and did not have access to physical evidence gathered by the Forest Service investigation over the weekend.

“As the threat of extreme weather continues to impact our state and the West, we remain focused on preventing major wildfires and safely delivering power to our customers and cities. native,” he said.

PG&E equipment has been blamed for several of California’s deadliest wildfires in recent years, even as drought and heat waves linked to climate change have made wildfires more violent and harder to fight.

The utility pleaded guilty in 2019 to 84 counts of manslaughter over a 2018 fire sparked by its long-neglected power grid that nearly destroyed the town of Paradise and became the deadliest US wildfire in a century. .

PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019, after that fire and others were blamed on its aging equipment. The utility emerged from bankruptcy in 2020 and negotiated a $13.5 billion settlement with some wildfire victims. But he still faces civil and criminal lawsuits related to other fires.

On Friday, a lawsuit claiming the Mosquito Fire was sparked by PG&E’s poorly maintained utility infrastructure was filed in San Francisco Superior Court.

“The damage caused to multiple counties by PG&E was entirely preventable due to their knowledge and expertise as electrical service providers,” attorney Gerald Singleton said in a statement.

“PG&E continues to act negligently and has been responsible for more than 1,500 fires across the states resulting in deaths, property destruction, financial expense and ruined lives due to their poorly maintained utility equipment,” a said Singleton.

The financial impact has not yet been reported, but is likely to be significant due to the number of acres charred and recklessly destroyed, forever changing communities and the lives of those affected, Singleton said.

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