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Faulty Hot Tub Wiring Caused 2015 Valley Fire

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CNN

Faulty Hot Tub Wiring Sparked Wildfire that Killed 4 in California

August 11, 2016

(CNN) A California wildfire that killed four people and cost nearly $57 million to extinguish was ignited by faulty hot tub wiring at a home, officials said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which goes by Cal Fire, said an investigation pointed to a faulty electrical connection as the cause.

The blaze started when a wire at a poorly connected hot tub overheated, melted and ignited dry brush nearby at a home in Cobb town.

Valley Fire - CNN

"The ensuing investigation uncovered evidence that a residential electrical connection arced and ignited surrounding dry grass," Cal Fire said Wednesday in an extensive 173-page report.

An electrical engineer later determined that the connection was loose and not up to standards, according to the report.

"I found no records the electrical circuit was installed under the required building permit," deputy chief James Engel said in the report.

ABC 7 San Francisco

ABC 7 San Francisco

Investigators: Massive Valley Fire Caused by Faulty Hot Tub Wiring

August 10, 2016

Middleton, Calif. (KGO) -- After a comprehensive investigation, CAL FIRE has determined that the 2015 Valley Fire was caused by a faulty residential electrical connection.

Investigators told ABC7 News Wednesday that it all started because of a hot tub. They said a homeowner in the hills of Cobb admitted he tried to install the wiring for that hot tub himself. He even confessed it wasn't working quite right.

Now, investigators say he could face charges after they determined that hot tub was what sparked the fire.

What's now the third most destructive fire in California history looks to have been caused by what investigators call a sub-standard wiring job at a home on High Valley Road. "There was electrical conduits or conductors outside, and that heated up and ignited the grass," Pimlott said.

Valley Fire ABC 7

They say that sparked a fire that spread so rapidly, that four firefighters were seriously injured in the first few hours.

Four other people lost their lives in the fire as it tore through the hills, destroying about 1,300 homes. "At the same time will be turned over to my legal staff to determine whether a crime has been committed," Lake County District Attorney Don Anderson said.

The district attorney has a month to file misdemeanor charges, up to two years if the charge is a felony

SFGATE

SFGATE

No Charges for Men Accused of Igniting Massive Valley Fire

December 19, 2017

No criminal charges will be filed against two men whose faulty hot tub wiring was linked to the most destructive fire in the history of Lake County, prosecutors there said Tuesday.

The Valley Fire, which started Sept. 12, 2015, burned across 76,000 acres in Middletown and other communities. Five people died, four firefighters were seriously injured and 2,048 structures were destroyed, including Harbin Hot Springs and Hoberg’s Resort. Damage was estimated to exceed $1.5 billion.

After a lengthy investigation, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said it traced the blaze to the wiring of a hot tub at a home in the mountain community of Cobb. The home was co-owned by John Alfred Pinch, Parker Charles Mills and their wives.

Valley Fire SFGATE

“The cause of the fire was a thermal-resistance heating at the wire nut because of a poor electrical connection,” Cal Fire said in a report. “This caused the wire to melt and arc at a temperature of 1,981 degrees, thus catching the dry grass on fire.”

Pinch allegedly installed without permits electrical wiring for the hot tub,which worked for a time but then stopped working. Occasionally, including before the fire, the men would attempt to make the hot tub work, but with no success, according to the Lake County district attorney’s office.

Anderson said his office did not find that actions by Mills and Pinch amounted to recklessness, a standard that would have been required to prove their guilt if charges had been filed.

He said the county building department discovers at least one violation or hazard in roughly half of inspections.

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Lake County News

District Attorney Won't File Charges Against Men for Valley Fire

December 21, 2017

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – More than two years after the Valley fire tore a path of destruction through the south county, Lake County’s district attorney has concluded that he will not file criminal charges against two men who Cal Fire said were responsible for the fire’s cause.

District Attorney Don Anderson said Tuesday that he based his decision not to pursue any criminal charges against John Alfred Pinch and Parker Charles Mills on the conclusion of a criminal grand jury he empaneled to consider the case this summer.

The Valley fire, which began on Sept. 12, 2015, was attributed by Cal Fire to faulty wiring on a hot tub at a home owned by Pinch and Mills located at 8015 High Valley Road in Cobb.

The fire remains among the most destructive wildland fires in California’s history. Cal Fire lists it at No. 4, above even the Thomas fire, because it destroyed 2,048 structures, more than 1,300 of them homes, and burned 76,000 acres.

Because the misdemeanor statute of limitations runs out after a year, Anderson said he and his staff didn’t have sufficient time to do additional investigation, research and analysis to consider misdemeanor charges. He said that charging only misdemeanors could in some instances prevent his office from charging felonies at a later stage.

Instead, Anderson focused on consideration of two felony crimes, involuntary manslaughter and unlawfully causing a fire with great bodily harm.

Those charges stemmed from the human toll the fire took. Four people were confirmed dead in the fire: Bruce Burns, Robert Fletcher, Leonard Neft and Barbara McWilliams.

A fifth man, Robert Litchman of Lower Lake, was never found. He was last seen at his home after he refused to evacuate. The fire destroyed his home.

“I don’t have the authority to officially say he’s dead,” said Anderson of Litchman.