Stop the Incineration of our State
Burying power lines would prevent power outages and wildfires
August 28, 2023
Wildfires. Hundreds of lives lost. Thousands of homes destroyed. Millions of people without power. Billions of dollars in damages. Everyone seems to opine on where to point fingers for the mind-numbing fires we are enduring across our state. But the following fires here in California show a common denominator in each tragedy:
- In 2003, San Diego Cedar Fire investigators determined that fires broke out in three areas, scorching 273,000 acres, caused when San Diego Gas and Electric power lines ignited vegetation.
- In 2017, 250 square miles burned in Northern California. On the day of the fire, strong winds whipped power lines that hung over dry brush. Pacific Gas & Electric was blamed for more than 30 wildfires since then, causing the destruction of 23,000 homes and 100 deaths. Reports in 2019 said that PG&E sparked at least 1500 fires.
- In 2018, the Paradise Fire had PG&E settling with the city for $220 million because their power lines ignited the fire.
- In 2021, the Dixie Fire was the largest single wildfire in California history, known to have started after a blown fuse on a PG&E utility pole was struck by a fallen tree, burning over 960,000 acres.
We understand that many fires begin in uninhabited or rugged areas often started by lightening, human error, or arson. But to the extent that we could put a significant dent into the horrific loss of life and property near power lines, will there ever emerge visionaries who have seen our missed opportunities and who will finally demand that we do all that we can - now!
What could they do? They could begin to bury power lines. A little at a time to make it affordable. Propositions to convince taxpayers that the cost will be worth it in our lifetime. Although it was considered expensive by last century's currency, it would have been but a fraction of the cost in today's dollars.
We shouldn't point fingers at there not being enough brush removed, that alarms were not sounded, that power companies didn't turn off the power in the path of these fires, that there was not always the best access to downed lines. All of this is true. But none of it would matter if power lines were buried.
Not burying lines decades ago was kicking the can down the road for it to be someone else's problem later. When will our public officials stop doing this and begin the slow process of making our state safer from this massive human failure to just do the right thing, sooner, rather than later?
Buried lines will not stop all fires, but wouldn't it have prevented so many conflagrations in our state?
We can only hope that finally, the powers that be will have the courage to accept the responsibility of what Harry Truman's sign said on his desk: The buck stops here.