To no one’s surprise, California forestry and fire officials this week concluded that Pacific Gas & Electric equipment caused the Camp Fire – the devastating wildfire that burned down the city of Paradise, other nearby communities and rural residences and businesses, and was the direct cause of 85 deaths.
The fire ripped through the town Nov. 8, sending 10s of thousands scurrying for shelter; and most of those people are left today living in different communities, re-settling or staying temporarily. Some 14,000 homes were destroyed.
It will be years before there can be any sort of recovery.
We were all pretty sure how the investigation would turn out. Even PG&E officials earlier said it would probably be found at fault.
So it seems like old news. But it bears a lot of weight as we move ahead. The case is now wrapped up and sitting there on the table. How does PG&E function from now on? How can some difference be made immediately to prevent this from happening again? What will PG&E really be able to do ... and will it even survive as a private corporation? How will energy be delivered in the future? Should it be a private company or a public utility? And who really settles the lawsuits: stockholders, rate payers and taxpayers?
“Cal Fire has determined that the Camp Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric located in the Pulga area,” the agency said in a news release. The Appeal ran a wire story on the issue in the Thursday edition.
It was also reported that the private utility company’s new chief executive, Bill Johnson, testified in a committee hearing Wednesday as the news was announced. He pledged that the company would demonstrate a higher commitment to safety under his watch, according to a Los Angeles Times story. That would include visual inspections of all equipment in high fire risk areas, intensifying vegetation management, and shutting off power in advance of dangerous conditions.
“I will tell you we will be laser-focused on safety, but I won’t expect you to believe that until you see the results,” he was quoted in that story.
He’s right. We’ll wait and see.
But here’s another question: If PG&E was not acting responsibly and was improperly maintaining lines and failing to mitigate burnable material below the lines, then who is responsible for letting the company be so irresponsible? The Pubic Utility Commission?
We’re not in the mood to alleviate PG&E of any of the onus. But we’re sure interested in understanding how state officials allowed this to happen ... it seems to be on the same order of how inspections were lacking at Oroville Dam a couple years ago.
Does it take some catastrophe or near-catastrophe to remind state officials that they bear responsibility?
And in this case, even that? We haven’t heard any mea culpas from state agencies or commissions. Who’s responsible for holding PG&E to standards? What was the problem?
Our View editorials represent the opinion of the Appeal-Democrat and its editorial board and are edited by the publisher and/or editor. Members of the editorial board include: Publisher Glenn Stifflemire and Editor Steve Miller.