On Nov. 8, 2018, the deadliest wildfire in California history was started by an electrical line owned by Pacific Gas & Electrical Corporation (PG&E). The Camp Fire, also known as the Paradise Fire, was the result of drought and neglected electrical wire transmission lines. The extensive damage resulted in the burning of over 153,000 acres in 17 days according to a Cal Fire report.
PG&E was found responsible for the Camp Fire after a six month investigation conducted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). “After a very meticulous and thorough investigation, Cal Fire has determined that the Camp Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity located in the Pulga area,” Cal Fire said in an official statement on Nov. 8.
The Camp Fire ended with a death toll of 85. It was not the first time the issue of neglect to infrastructure led to wildfires, nor the first time PG&E negligence led to loss of life.
PG&E was also found liable for a gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, on Sept. 9, 2010. A gas pipeline explosion occurred that was so strong that the United States Geological Survey registered the explosion as a 1.1 magnitude earthquake. The explosion led to the death of eight individuals and 58 casualties, according to an NPR report.
After six years, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) fined PG&E $3 million for damages to life and property for the San Bruno gas line explosion. A San Francisco Federal Judge, U.S District Judge William Alsup, ordered the utility to buy ads to claim responsibility for PG&E’s role in the gas pipe explosion.
This resulted in PG&E being placed under probation and having to create a wildfire safety plan annually to be reported to the CPUC to prepare for California’s prolonged fire season.
In the latest 2019 wildfire safety plan released on Feb. 6, PG&E revealed a new policy called the Public Safety Power Shutdown (PSPS). The PSPS has been the source of scrutiny for PG&E. Causing over 300,000 customers to lose power throughout California due to severe weather that can damage power lines and result in wildfires according to a PG&E press release.
PG&E has demonstrated that it does not have California’s best interest at heart. PG&E has a pattern of ignoring infrastructure updates until lives are lost. PG&E’s power grid and gas pipelines need to be bought by the municipalities they serve. Only then will Californians be able to enjoy safe and reliable power.