PG&E equipment has likely caused at least three fires despite leaving millions without power

As another wind event is impacting California, PG&E is suggesting it may extend its new round of power outages to 4 million people. But their equipment is still starting fires anyway.

A few days ago, PG&E acknowledged that they found a broken jumper wire on a transmission tower near where the massive Kincaid fire started:

The utility said in a filing with state regulators that it registered an outage at the tower at 9:20 p.m. PT on Wednesday, only seven minutes before the fire erupted near the Sonoma County wine country town of Geyserville…

Although PG&E had cut power on some lines in the area Wednesday afternoon because of concern over threatening weather, the utility said had kept the power flowing on that particular stretch of high-voltage transmission lines, which carry electricity from the power plant to various substations, because winds there had not triggered shutdown protocols.

This fire has already burned an area twice the size of San Francisco and destroyed several dozen homes.

Then today PG&E disclosed that the company’s equipment was likely responsible for the two Lafayette fires (just outside of San Francisco):

The fires broke out on Sunday on both sides on state Highway 24 in Lafayette Sunday afternoon, with the first one reported at around 2:45 p.m. in an area just south of the highway at Pleasant Hill Road and Condit Road, prompting a number of evacuations. Around the same time, a fire just north of Highway 24 erupted along Camino Diablo near the tennis club.

At the time, the areas were not included in the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs used to prevent downed lines from causing wildfires; the sites were not designated as a high fire risk, the company said.

The company reported the incidents to state regulators on Monday. PG&E told the California Public Utilities Commission that a worker responded to the first fire around 4:45 p.m. Sunday and was told firefighters believe contact between a power line and a communication line may have caused it.

A worker went to the second fire about an hour later and observed a fallen pole and transformer at the location. Firefighters told the PG&E worker they were looking at the transformer as a possible ignition source, PG&E said.

PG&E President and CEO Andy Vesey told reporters that if the company wanted to prevent “everything” from happening, they would have to shut the utility’s entire electrical system down during unfavorable fire conditions. The fact that they’ve shut much of the system down and still managed to start at least three fires shows exactly how badly the company and regulators have let the utility’s infrastructure rot. This is a systemic problem, not a neighborhood problem.

Other posts in this series:

On the origin of California’s rolling blackouts

Why PG&E can’t find a buyer in bankruptcy

Why California can’t just bury its power lines

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