Reacting to consecutive years of devastating wildfires, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) has rolled out an expanded program to decrease threats and support rebuilding in the Camp Fire area of Northern California, including the destroyed town of Paradise.
Calling the additions "precautionary measures" to lessen threats in high-risk areas, PG&E is implementing additional safety steps and assigning an executive to head the San Francisco-based combination utility's efforts to assist ongoing rebuilding efforts in fire-ravaged parts of Butte County.
"We are committed to supporting families impacted by the Camp Fire through the recovery and rebuilding process, and helping protect all of our customers from the ever-increasing threat of wildfires," said CEO Geisha Williams.
In the wake of the Camp Fire, up to 20 lawsuits have been filed against PG&E by displaced citizens, many alleging that old, faulty equipment on the transmission system in Butte County caused the most destructive fire in the state's history, which killed scores of people and displaced 50,000. The legal actions allege that PG&E allowed its power system to deteriorate and failed to properly trim vegetation.
PG&E on Tuesday filed a third preliminary incident report to state regulators, detailing more about its two transmission lines in the area near the suspected starting point of the Camp Fire. Utility inspectors said the Caribou-Palermo line had fallen, which damaged equipment and a flash point on the tower. And on the Big Bend line, inspectors found downed poles with bullets and bullet holes near the break point, along with several snapped trees over poles.
PG&E could not comment on the lawsuits, but it reiterated that the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Following last year's series of horrific wildfires in Northern California, including in the iconic wine country, the utility created a Community Wildfire Safety Program. PG&E now has added to that program in terms of safety measures, inspections and hardening the electric system, which has been the identified or suspected cause of most of the fires.
PG&E plans to undertake:
- More detailed and enhanced infrastructure safety inspections of 5,500 miles of transmission lines and 50,000-plus poles and towers to which the lines are attached;
- Enhanced vegetation management to focus on trees and branches that pose the biggest threats to wildfire risk; and
- More real-time monitoring and intelligence by adding about 1,300 weather stations to create a density of one station every 20 miles in high fire-risk areas and to install nearly 600 high definition cameras in the high-risk areas.
"We are acting decisively now to address these real and growing threats, and we are committed to working together with our regulators, state leaders and customers to consider what additional wildfire safety efforts we can all take to make our communities safer," Williams said.
Vice President Aaron Johnson, who handles electric operations, has been appointed to lead all of the on-the-ground efforts. He has been tapped to be the community rebuilding executive overseeing efforts to coordinate with officials and partner with communities. He also is tasked with identifying philanthropic groups to provide assistance, as well as address customer concerns.