According to the Mercury News, Sonoma County emergency dispatchers dealing with wildfires in the region suddenly received multiple calls of downed power lines and exploding electrical transformers. In one 90-minute period, fire crews responded to more than 10 different locations resulting from the rash of 911 calls and other reports about electrical equipment fires.
The electric equipment failures raised scrutiny on utility PG&E, about it’s equipment maintenance and whether it adequately cut back trees from power lines to reduce fire risk to the degree required by state law. Here’s the map of the calls:
PG&E refuted the claims in a statement, citing hurricane velocity high winds and years of drought weakening trees across the North Bay region. But the company has a long history of losing lawsuits alleging negligence dating back to 1994.
More recently, California levied a $1.6 billion state penalty for a 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed about three dozen homes in San Bruno, a suburb of San Francisco.
In April, the California Public Utilities Commission also fined PG&E $8.3 million for failing to maintain a power line that sparked a 22-day Butte Fire in Amador County in 2015, which destroyed 549 homes, charred 70,868 acres and killed two people.
In 2016, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection also filed a lawsuit against PG&E to pay $90 million in firefighting costs. More than 1,000 lawsuits and claims are currently pending against the utility, according to the Mercury News.
“It was more than just a lack of maintenance. It was a complete disregard for their requirements of vegetation management in rural areas,” said Frank Pitre, an attorney who has previously filed lawsuits on behalf of claimants against the company.
Pitre said his law firm has already been contacted by Sonoma County residents who said transformers exploded and wires sparked unrelated to wildfire. “This is very definitely on people’s radar of what caused a number of fires to break out all at once.”
Redwood City State Senator Jerry Hill said if negligence is found to be the cause for the electric equipment fires, it’s going to be time to dissolve PG&E.
If it turns out that PG&E is responsible for this fire and negligent for not putting in the resources or for diverting the resources, then I will be the first one to stand up and say we need to dissolve PG&E as a private company and form a public utility. We would not have the confidence or trust in them in the future. Nor should we,” Hill said.