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Q&A: Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey Explains His Investigation Into The Cause Of The Dixie Fire

The Dixie Fire rages in Northern California.
U.S. Forest Service
The Dixie Fire rages in Northern California.

The Butte County District Attorney’s Office has been working with Cal Fire to investigate the cause of the Dixie Fire. PG&E said in July its equipment may have contributed to starting the fire. NSPR’s Andre Byik spoke with District Attorney Mike Ramsey Thursday about the status of his investigation. Here are the highlights from their conversation.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

On the nature of the investigation into the Dixie Fire

The nature of the investigation is to determine whether there is any sort of criminal negligence involved with PG&E and the starting of that fire.

On why Butte County is leading the investigation although much of this fire is burning in Plumas County.

It has spotted over into Butte County, so we have joint jurisdiction with the Plumas County District Attorney's Office and our office. We are working together on this. Our office is involved because, quite frankly, we have a little more experience with such investigations, specifically PG&E.

On what the District Attorney’s Office has learned so far

What has been disclosed at this point, and is public, is that there was a tree into a line, a 12,000-volt line that came down the hill on the opposite side of the Cresta Dam in the Feather River Canyon. And the fire started under that line.

On some of the things that must be taken into account when assessing whether the cause of this fire rises to the level of criminality

That's to be determined. Was this a hazardous tree that would be obvious to the persons responsible for checking those hazardous trees? Could they be expected to know that this tree was a potential hazard to that line? Also, maintenance records of that particular line. The idea as to whether or not that line in and of itself may have failed independently of the tree.

On whether there is any doubt at this point whether PG&E’s equipment helped start this fire

Very little doubt because there's no other cause and it wasn't lightning. It didn't appear that there was anyone up in that area that was throwing matches around and Cal Fire, my office, certainly the Plumas County District Attorney’s Office, what we have uncovered thus far is that it does appear that this line is responsible for that fire.

On the investigation into whether PG&E started the Fly Fire and whether the Butte County District Attorney’s Office is involved.

Yes (The Butte County District Attorney’s Office is involved).

Again, (there was) a tree into a line. Without getting into too much detail, we have to make the determination: was there a tree into a line and then the fire started? Or, a fire started which put the tree into the line after, presumably from the Dixie Fire spotting over.

On how the loss of homes and businesses affect what's taken into consideration in the investigation

From the very beginning, we were fearful that this might be the outcome because of the extraordinarily flammable nature of that area up there. So the investigation, and all parties involved at this point, are taking it very seriously. Even more so after last (Wednesday) night where there's a good possibility we may have lost some lives.

A graduate of California State University, Chico, Andre Byik is an award-winning journalist who has reported in Northern California since 2012. He joined North State Public Radio in 2020, following roles at the Chico Enterprise-Record and Chico News & Review.