Devastating CA Fire Caused By Faulty Hot Tub Wiring

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The Valley Fire. Photo by Noah Berger.
The Valley Fire. Photo by Noah Berger.

Last September, the Valley Fire tore through California in Napa and Sonoma counties, killing four people and destroying nearly 2,000 structures, including homes, commercial buildings and other properties. In total, 4,000 firefighters battled the blaze, which would consume more than 76,000 acres of land and cost $57 million to extinguish.

In the months since, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire, launched an investigation into the cause of the fire. Last week, it announced a verdict: The Valley Fire, the state’s third-most destructive fire on record, was caused by faulty hot tub wiring.

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According to the official report, homeowner John Pinch admitted to installing the wiring himself. Further investigation revealed the writing was not to code, as the circuit connection was “only partially encased in conduit, and the conduit that was used was not buried 18 inches, and it shared the trench with the water line.

On the night of the fire, the copper wire heated up to 1981 degrees Fahrenheit, causing it to melt. The connection came into contact with dry leaves, which ignited, serving as the catalyst for the fire.

“An inspection by an electrical engineer determined that connection was loose in the wire nut and arced, causing visible pitting and melting of the copper wire. The hot tub power clock was found in the on position and the 40-amp breaker had been tripped,” the report said.

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In addition, while a building permit was on file for the property’s covered deck, which would house the portable spa, there was no mention of electrical work in the plans or permit.

It’s uncertain whether Pinch will face charges. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, that decision is up to prosecutors.

UPDATE (10 a.m. CT): According to new reports, homeowner John Pinch is suing Cal Fire, a move that will force the agency to turn over all its evidence. Pinch says he and his wife weren't home at the time of the fire, but a suspicious vehicle was seen on their property. Obtaining the evidence from Cal Fire will help them in their own investigation.



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