A Cal Fire strike team watches billowing smoke from the Dixie Fire. Courtesy Cal Fire

California’s second largest-ever wildfire, which scorched just under 100,000 acres last year, was sparked by a tree coming in contact with cables operated by Pacific Gas and Electric power utility, state authorities said on Tuesday.

The cause of the fire was identified west of Cresta Dam, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement to the Butte County District Attorney’s Office.

The Dixie fire erupted on July 13, 2021, and destroyed 1,329 structures and damaged 95 additional structures.

In November, PG&E acknowledged that it had received a subpoena from the U.S. attorney’s office seeking documents related to the Dixie Fire, and the Californian utility expected to take a loss of $1.15 billion.

California Public Utilities Commission had voted unanimously in April last year to toughen oversight of PG&E, saying the utility had largely failed to perform required tree-trimming work near power lines in areas with the highest risk of wildfires.

PG&E’s equipment also caused a deadly fire in California in 2017 that claimed 46 lives, devastated at least 245,000 acres and incinerated 8,900 homes.

The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2020. It had sought protection from creditors after wildfires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018 drove the utility’s potential liabilities into tens of billions of dollars.

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