Generators causing fires during planned power shutoffs

Some power companies in California are turning off the electricity during periods of high wildfire danger to prevent fires

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Generator Fire power outage PG&E
One of the generators that caught fire during PG&E’s planned power outage. Screenshot from video below.

In what Pacific Gas and Electric calls a “Public Safety Power Shutoff”, the company turned off the power to 48,000 customers Tuesday and Wednesday in the Sierra foothills of California.

Following many fires created by their electrical equipment, PG&E began the program to prevent additional fires.  Some residents are using generators when they lose their power to pump water and to keep medical equipment and refrigerators running, but on Tuesday and Wednesday three fires in Nevada County were caused by generators.

PG&E and other companies, including San Diego Gas & Electric, have opted to turn off power to their customers during periods of high fire danger rather than harden their infrastructure to prevent failures that start fires.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

8 thoughts on “Generators causing fires during planned power shutoffs”

  1. While I sincerely wish PG&E would harden their infrastructure, the rate-payers and the shareholders simply won’t tolerate the expense. The only way this gets fixed is if the state mandates action and enforces it equitably across the board with everyone, including the shareholders and executives, bearing the costs. I don’t see the political will, even in California, for it.

    I do wonder how many of those generators were actually needed versus those who just wanted to keep watching football.

    1. Some of us only use it to keep our food cold enough to be safely eaten. We plug in our refrigerator, a lamp in the kitchen, charge phone, and the coffee pot (for 5 minutes). We never use the TV as we are conserving gasoline. I worry about neighbors who need electricity to run their medical equipment. We understand the fire danger so we suffer through it. I wonder if you could.

      1. I wasn’t doubting at all that many of the folks running generators were doing so for legitimate reasons. But I also know people are people and some are running generators just so they don’t interrupt their lifestyles. I do live in California in an area where PG&E cuts off electricity and I’ve worked in wildland fire and in fire ecology so I sympathize with folks who live in fire-prone regions. But many who live here don’t accept the fire risk or the rationale behind managing that risk.

    2. We had at least two BIG fires here in Maine when people used generators while the power was out due to big storm. One a shore -line mansion and one a medical center

  2. Mission Statement
    “The purpose of the OSBFSC is “to help plan, implement and monitor the reinstatement of historic fire regimes, primarily through strategic fuels reduction, in a manner that protects life, property, improves forest health, and enhances the resources valued by its stakeholders.”
    “Orleans is a nationally recognized “Firewise Community MKWC has been playing a leadership role along with the Orleans Volunteer Fire Department and the Karuk Tribe in planning and hosting neighborhood meetings and educational events in the local river communities. Firewise is a program of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In 2014 NFPA awarded Orleans, along with four other communities in the country a grand prize for the community’s work to become prepared for wildfire.” I encourage anyone interested in fire prevention to look at their website. (Can’t help adding a little sarcasm – we could rake the forest). Seriously, It seems full circle to look to Native caretakers of this earth.

    1. Wanted to add; off the grid for the most part. Use generator for obvious reasons, but responsibly. I suspect generators will play an important role during earthquakes and other disasters. THANK YOU for bringing this issue to the forefront. I wonder if there is an article or site that speaks directly to the care of generators? Have heard of instances where they have been stolen, another topic not related.

  3. Like everything else in politics, if YOU want to get to the root of the problem then GO to the root of the problem!! Just as an example, the greenies of Mariposa county sue PG&E if they cut down hazardous trees & sue them if a tree falls on the power lines, can’t win!!!!!!!!!

  4. I’d be running a generator too… you pay a monthly fee to have power even if you don’t use a single watt. It’s their responsibility to keep the power on.
    Whatever the reason for it, to keep food cool, keep the lights on, or play World of Warcraft, I would definitely run the generator. My house, my rules. I’m glad I live in South Carolina instead of Southern California.

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