Utility companies spark California fires

Utility companies spark California fires

Photo Credits: CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE

Negligence at fault for lost lives, homes, land

The Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif. took 86 lives and scorched 153,336 acres last November. Many were displaced when 13,972 residences and 4,821 buildings were destroyed. To date, the Butte County fire is the deadliest wildfire in California. The causes of the fire, however, were not natural. This fire, along with several others, is said to be caused by utility companies.

“Cal Fire has determined that of the 21 major fires last fall in Northern California, at least 17 were caused by power lines, poles and other equipment owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company,” according to The New York Times.

In 2018 alone, 100 lives were lost and over 1.6 million acres were burned. California’s three largest utility companies — PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — caused over 2,000 fires in the time span of approximately three and a half years, according to The Los Angeles Times. PG&E reported 1,152 equipment-related fires, Southern California Edison reported 347 and SDG&E reported 115. Altogether, these three companies control the gas and electricity down the coast of California from Eureka to the border with Mexico.

The California Public Utilities Commission has fined electrical utility companies for failing to meet safety standards only after fires have already occured. In December of 2011, the CPUC passed a resolution that permitted its staff to fine companies for violating state and federal natural gas safety rules. The CPUC issued several citations to PG&E in 2016 and 2017 for a natural gas leak that caused two injuries and an improperly constructed pipe that resulted in an explosion. Since then, PG&E has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in safety code violations and $30 billion in wildfire claims. Additionally, several insurance companies — including Allstate, State Farm and USAA — filed lawsuits against PG&E for the Camp Fire. Some survivors of the fire also filed lawsuits for damages to their homes. Earlier this month, PG&E CEO Geisha Williams resigned and the company is under bankruptcy protection as of Jan. 29.

The irreversible damage of over 150,000 scorched acres negatively affects the environment. Fires caused by public utilities are nothing short of devastating, both to the people and to the land they live on. Many lives were lost and homes destroyed by the fires that spread through California. Thousands of firefighters, task force members and other rescue personnel had to aid in containment.

These companies have sparked some of the biggest fires in California history, and need to be properly reprimanded to ensure that this does not happen again. Of the most destructive California fires, 10 have occurred within the past five years. CPUC has only issued nine citations and fines, which is hardly anything compared to the many fires caused by safety code violations. Safety compliance is not an option — people’s lives are at stake and should not be put at risk for a utility monopoly’s short-term profits.

The Editorial Board demands stricter oversight of these companies along with proper inspection to ensure safety and prevent recurring situations from happening yet again. The negligence of PG&E and other electrical utility companies responsible for starting fires is appalling and needs to end now.

Written by: The Editorial Board