Forest Service launches criminal probe into Mosquito Fire; seizes PG&E equipment

(Reuters) – Californian utility PG&E Corp said on Monday it was cooperating with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) after the federal agency started a criminal investigation into the U.S. state’s largest wildfire this year.

The Mosquito Fire has scorched 76,781 acres (31,072 hectares) as of Sept. 25. It has forced at least 11,000 people to evacuate from Foresthill, Volcanoville, Georgetown and other communities between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.

As part of the investigation, the USFS removed and took possession of one of PG&E’s transmission poles and equipment on Sept. 24, the utility said in a filing.

“While PG&E is conducting our own investigation into the events that led to the fire, we do not have access to the physical evidence that was collected as part of the USFS investigation over the weekend,” a PG&E spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

The spokesperson reiterated that the USFS had not made a determination on the cause of the fire.

The power company’s equipment has been blamed for sparking numerous wildfires, including some of the state’s most deadly and destructive. Potential liabilities of tens of billions of dollars forced it to seek bankruptcy protection in 2017 and 2018.

The Mosquito Fire, which is 60% contained, has destroyed 78 structures and damaged 13, as of Sept. 25.

PG&E said the USFS had indicated to it that the fire began in an area of the company’s power line on National Forest System lands.

Earlier this month, PG&E said there had been electrical activity near one of its transmission poles in the area around OxBow Reservoir on Sierra Nevada, where the fire began on Sept. 6.

(Reporting by Ruhi Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)