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Affluent California City Had Grid Woes Ahead of Wildfire, Sensor Maker Says

  • Whisker Labs devices detected a brownout around time of fire
  • Laguna Niguel a ‘hot spot’ for grid woes since October: CEO
One of over 20 homes destroyed by the fire in Laguna Niguel, California, on May 12.
One of over 20 homes destroyed by the fire in Laguna Niguel, California, on May 12.Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images 

An affluent Southern California city ravaged by a wildfire last week had been experiencing sudden voltage swings more frequently in the past six months -- including a brownout minutes before the blaze was reported, according to home sensor maker Whisker Labs Inc.

Plug-in sensors in dozens of Laguna Niguel houses detected voltage drops from utility power lines on May 11, plunging to 83.9 volts from 120 volts for almost a second at 2:41 p.m., according to the device developer. Reports of the fire came three minutes later.