US power provider PG&E issued warning for removing evidence from California fire site

California fires have scorched over 1.6 million hectares since the start of 2020, exceeding any single year in state history. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SAN FRANCISCO (REUTERS) - A US federal judge warned California's largest utility company PG&E on Friday (Nov 6) for removing potential evidence using a helicopter from the site of the Zogg fire in northern California, which left four people dead in September, and asked it not to be destroyed.

The order issued by the US District Judge William Alsup came a day after an affiliate of broadcaster ABC News reported that the power provider was seen hauling away equipment including power poles.

The company is part of an ongoing investigation by the state regulators on whether it played a role in igniting the fire, with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) taking possession of the utility's equipment in October to assess its role.

"PG&E shall not destroy or despoil any of the evidence so removed and shall keep it preserved with records sufficient to show its exact locations when removed," the judge wrote in the order.

PG&E did not respond to Reuters' request for comment outside regular business hours. Bloomberg News quoted a statement from the company saying that it was cataloging items left behind by CalFire and had used a helicopter.

The Zogg Fire had started in Shasta County, about 322km north of San Francisco, on Sept 27 and consumed more than 22,662ha, while injuring one person and killing four.

California fires have scorched over 1.6 million ha since the start of the year, far exceeding any single year in state history, triggering the evacuations of thousands of people.

They have been stoked by increasingly frequent and prolonged bouts of extreme heat, high winds and dry-lightning sieges that scientists attribute to climate change.

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