Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Whipped by the wine country's wildfires in 2017 and the California Public Utilities Commission's orders, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company is revamping its efforts during fire season.

Last month the utility proposed dramatic steps in front of California's never-ending wildfire season.

Not fully in place, the steps still have an eye-opening impact. Certainly the most alarming is the idea of cutting power to regions "during extreme fire conditions."

The idea is that if a fire downs a nonelectrified pole, the lines can't ignite another fire.

The year 2017 was devastating for wildfires in California, most notably in the wine country with nearly 8,900 homes and structures, including wineries, destroyed.

Butte County suffered as well, but not to that extent. We lost 240 homes and structures, along with roughly 25,000 acres charred.

Wildfires are frequently caused by downed power lines. Without details, PG&E unveiled new strategies, explaining that power poles would be covered in retardant or replaced with metal, among other actions. Then there's the idea of cutting power during red flag conditions.

The public would be told in advance of any such action, PG&E said.

Pushed by the CPUC, PG&E has rushed to get strategies in place for this year, but maybe it's created too much ambiguity.

That announcement caused deep concern among some Butte County residents, especially older ones who feared losing power during a critical time and not getting enough advance notice of it.

What constitutes "extreme fire conditions"?

And if necessary, residents would be evacuated to safety centers. What prompts an evacuation and who decides whether to evacuate?

Cutting off power during a wildfire is not without controversy. San Diego Gas and Electric Co. cut power to 17,000 residents during the Lilac Fire in December. San Diego County supervisors demanded a post-fire investigation, saying that residents on wells could not pump water to fight their fires or provide water to their farm animals.

In a letter to the CPUC, one county supervisor noted that the utility's customers were still charged during the power outage, according to a news report. In response, the power company said bills would be adjusted.

The utility has the right to cut power, but in the case of the Lilac Fire, residents may not have anticipated the action and could not prepare alternatives.

We're anxious to hear more of the plans, especially in the areas where there are critical gaps of information, like how long the power could be out. That's why we hope PG&E will be forthcoming with that information.

The more time that residents are given to prepare before an emergency, the better.

This also is a wake-up call to those living in the fire-prone foothills to start thinking about what this could mean to them.

Load comments