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LADWP Explains Results of the Getty Fire Preliminary Investigation

VOICES--LADWP has been working closely with LAFD investigators to inspect electrical equipment that was believed to have been struck by a dried tree branch near the location where the Getty Fire is suspected to have started.

Based on the investigation, LAFD has stated that the fire was likely caused by a tree branch that broke off during the high wind conditions and landed on nearby power lines, which resulted in arcing and sparking that ignited nearby brush. Investigators are working to determine the ownership of the land occupied by the tree.

During the preliminary investigation, a dried Eucalyptus branch was found by investigators hanging from telecommunications lines located below LADWP power lines near 1901 N. Sepulveda Boulevard. The branch is believed to have blown into LADWP wires from a tree located approximately 30 feet from the utility lines. This distance is outside of the vegetation clearance and setback distance required by state regulations.  

Based upon inspection of the location, there was no failure of the pole, remain fully intact. Additionally, LADWP completed vegetation management inspection and trimming in this area of the City on July 10, 2019, having trimmed 248 trees in the vicinity to protect the public’s safety and to prevent power outages.

Our water and power crew members remain hard at work supporting ongoing fire operations with personnel in the area to ensure adequate water supply to aid in firefighting and coordination of power restoration in areas damaged by the fire. During any fire, our power system staff coordinates closely with firefighters to cut power flow as needed to ensure fire personnel safety and the safety of our customers and they will continue to do.

LADWP’s electric distribution system has 6,763 miles of overhead distribution lines and 3,732 miles of underground cables. These lines deliver power to customers from 177 electrical substations located across the City.  As part of maintaining this infrastructure, LADWP has an aggressive vegetation management program. Each year, our crews inspect overhead power lines and ensure that tree branches and other vegetation are clear of electrical equipment to protect against fire and power outages.

Properly maintaining our power infrastructure is what allows LADWP to continue providing safe and reliable power to our customers, but as with any other electrical distribution system, power lines can be impacted by anything that makes contact with Mylar balloon. Auto accidents also frequently impact our equipment and have resulted in fires in the past, regardless of wind conditions. In most instances, these events go unnoticed beyond the immediate area; resulting in a localized power outage. 

Additional Background on LADWP’s Power System Vegetation Management Program

As a municipal utility that provides power to 4 million customers, LADWP works hard to reduce fire risk with an aggressive vegetation management and mitigation program in compliance with state regulations to keep brush, tree limbs and other potential fire hazards clear of electrical equipment in order to help prevent power outages and fires. LADWP performs patrols on foot, by car and by air and trims vegetation on a 12-month cycle as well as performing mid-cycle patrols, at the 6-month mark, usually in high-fire areas. In traditionally low-fire areas, regulations require vegetation to be kept 18 inches away from our power lines and in certain areas the clearance is 4 feet away from our power lines.

Tree limbs, branches and other objects like metallic balloons can travel significant distances and can strike power lines and cause a temporary disruption in power flow or a power outage. If a branch, metallic balloon, or animal comes into contact with multiple wires (phases), an arc fault flashover can occur, producing a sudden pulse of light and heat. In some cases, wires spark occurs.