Cal Fire report blasts PG&E response to Dixie Fire


PG&E wants Californians to believe that it was a “prudent operator” in the events leading up to the 2021 Dixie Fire, the second-largest wildfire in state history.

Cal Fire says otherwise in its final report on the fire released last week.

No surprise there. Since 2017, PG&E, a two-time felon, has been ducking responsibility for a staggering 31 wildfires, burning nearly 25,000 structures and killing more than 100 Californians.

The utility acknowledges that it took 10 hours — 10 hours! — from the time a 65-foot Douglas fir fell and contacted one of its power lines for one of its workers to arrive on the scene.

“The prolonged response to the initial outage and fault that occurred at 6:48 a.m. was a direct and negligent factor in the ignition of the fire,” investigators said in the Cal Fire report. “Had PG&E arrived on the scene earlier, they could have detected the fault … before it had time to ignite a receptive fuel.”

PG&E’s response?

“There was no indication of an emergency until our troubleman arrived at the scene soon after the fire had started. Consistent with our policies and standards, the troubleman worked diligently for hours to get to the site, including after being turned away by a county road crew, and fought the fire heroically by himself before Cal Fire arrived.”

So it comes down to this. On a hot July day in the midst of California’s wildfire season, in an area that Cal Fire noted that several wildfires had ignited in recent years, PG&E’s “policies and standards” allowed for a 10-hour response to a potential fire risk to be called “prudent.” If a county road crew blocked a worker’s way, Californians just have to live with the result.

That’s hardly comforting to Greenville residents who had their town pretty much destroyed by the ensuing blaze. All told, the Dixie Fire burned nearly 1 million acres, 1,300 structures and more than half of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The cost of fighting the Dixie Fire was $637 million, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, the most costly wildfire to combat in U.S. history.

PG&E says in the aftermath of the Dixie Fire that it has taken steps that could have prevented it from starting, including heightened inspections of its electricity system and improved vegetation management, “state-of-the-art weather forecasting” and artificial intelligence to better forecast dangerous weather patterns and wildfire hazards. It is also planning to use intentional power shutdowns in high-risk regions, which begs the question of why the utility didn’t take the steps before the Dixie Fire.

The delayed response isn’t the only point of contention between PG&E and Cal Fire in the report.

The utility insists that the tree that started the fire was “alive, vital and growing vertically at the time of the failure.”

But Cal Fire said in its report that the tree in question was “damaged and decaying” when it fell and contacted the PG&E transmission line.

In April, PG&E avoided criminal prosecution in five counties for the Dixie Fire as part of a settlement agreement in which the utility admitted no wrongdoing. PG&E agreed to pay about $55 million over five years in civil penalties and payments and expedite a program for victims of the fire to receive compensation for damages.

All told, the utility’s actions do nothing to restore the lost trust that has plagued PG&E for more than a decade.


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