The Latest: California fires prompt tougher utility rules

Markets Associated Press

The Latest on California toughening rules meant to prevent power lines from sparking wildfires (all times local):

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11:45 p.m.

California is ordering utility companies to do more to keep power lines from sparking devastating wildfires.

The state Public Utilities Commission on Thursday toughened its rules requiring power companies to keep trees and brush away from power lines in areas at higher risk of fires. Utilities also would have to step up patrols to look for fire risks and speed repairs.

Commission President Michael Picker calls the new orders a "major rewrite" of existing fire prevention rules for utilities. Picker says the changes acknowledge how dramatically climate change is raising wildfire risks in much of the state.

The board's unanimous action comes as firefighters in Southern California battle some of the largest wildfires in state history, including some that witnesses have linked to sparks from wind-whipped power lines.

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12:30 a.m.

California utility regulators are considering tougher safety rules for power lines, phone lines and utility poles in parts of the state prone to fires.

The rules being taken up Thursday would require tree branches to be kept farther away from power lines and newly installed lines to be spaced farther apart.

Utility companies would also have to fix safety problems in areas of high fire risk before making repairs in lower-risk zones. Those repairs would have to be completed within six months in extreme fire-risk zones.

The Public Utilities Commission first began considering rules after a devastating series of Southern California in 2007 that were tied to swaying and arcing power lines, some of which fell during heavy winds.