A good article to read on what was the cause of the 10 worst wildfires (at the time), which admittedly does not have the last several fires included in it, is the SF Chronicle article from October of 2017 that you can read by clicking on this link.
Native Californians that I know, and I am one of them, do not recall such a huge number of wildfires as we have seen in the last 12 years. Yes, we would see occasional wildfires in Southern California fanned and spread by the infamous Santa Ana winds, and occasionally some fires in Lake County over the decades, but not the “every year” occurrence that we have recently seen.
So why the burning prevalence now?
Governor Newsom would have you believe that it is all PG&E’s fault for neglecting maintenance on their distribution lines. President Trump would have you believe it is all the State of California’s forest mismanagement.
Although lengthy-the this link from CAL Matters is the best analytic I have read on the reasons for these fires throughout California since 2007.
Where’s the Truth?
My humble opinion is the cause is drought, people building more houses in areas that have high fire danger, the bark beetle ravaging our National and State forest land, and a failure of the State and Feds to thin their forests and cleanup fuel that lies on the ground.
Oh-and there is the matter of PG & E malfunctioning equipment and power lines arcing in high winds.
Although I am biased because I wrote and spoke against the huge fine the PUC levied against PG&E in 2015, I want to lay some of the blame on the PUC. When the San Bruno explosion tragedy happened, it was obvious that PG & E had some real safety problems with their gas distribution lines. Yes, PG & E should have dealt with those safety concerns earlier, but when the PUC was considering the $1.4 billion fine they ultimately assessed, the appeal was made to the PUC to force the ENTIRE FINE to go to safety upgrades and facility maintenance-not just for gas lines, but for power distribution lines as well.
The PUC detailed that $850 million would go to improving PG & E’s gas transmission lines, $300 million to the State Treasury, $400 million to be rebated to PG&E’s customers/ratepayers, and $50 million to PUC safety concerns/activities that are not known to me or the public.
I am not saying that PG & E should not have been penalized I am saying the PUC should have forced maintenance work and safety upgrades by where the dollars were spent.
Now we all know that PG & E did not cause all the wildfires in the past dozen years. There is very little we can do about lightning strikes, dumbasses who mow high weeds with equipment that has no spark arrestors, and “a not so bright person” that put in non-code wiring to power their hot tub in Lake County. Short of the government taking over and really screwing up PG & E (because we know they would screw it up), what can we do to eliminate the wildfires that were caused by PG & E?
I keep hearing the “easy” fix would be to bury the overhead lines in high fire areas. Supervisor David Rabbitt and State Senator Bill Dodd have discussed burying those lines and the rough estimate would be about $1 Trillion to do so.
The next easiest fix was to force PG & E and other power providers to cut power on high risk weather situations. We all know that could help, but what a costly and major and in some cases, dangerous fix. Regardless, that is the State’s mandate to PG & E to let them out of some major litigation following the 2017 fires. PG & E has no choice in that matter.
After a casual discussion with Mr. Ken Dern of Aaction Rents, I have my suggested, somewhat plagiarized planned fix for mitigating fires caused by overhead wires arcing in high winds and a few ideas for the other wildfire causes in the last dozen years:
- Get that $300 million back from the State of California and immediately use inmates, homeless, youth, and guide them with skilled workers and clear 50 yards from all overhead transmission lines in high fire danger areas.
- Install weed barriers and rock under those overhead transmission lines in high fire danger areas so there is no fuel under them
- Continue the costly and invasive power shutdowns on high fire danger days and provide tax incentives for folks to buy and properly install generators for their businesses and homes. Make sure we inspect to ensure the installation is to code and does not create more fire danger problems.
- Invasive or not, we need to quickly trim trees and brush away from other overhead power lines in high risk neighborhoods (Proctor Heights, Montecito Heights, Mark West areas are good examples of these areas).
- Provide tax incentives to larger landowners for clearing larger fire breaks on their lands. Vineyards have proven to be a good way to slow the wildfires, but in many areas that won’t sustain vineyards, we could do a lot more to cut 100-yard fire breaks at property boundaries. After speaking to a few landowners, they would be willing to do those big fire breaks if their tax savings could help pay their costs.
- Hope it rains more.
- Stop talking about taking over PG & E.
- Put much higher penalties on dumbasses that mow and target shoot and do fireworks and burn campfires in high fire danger areas.
Thanks, Ken Dern, for the inspiration!!
That’s All Folks!