A television station in Sacramento, California, ABC10, took an extended look at the deaths caused by wildfires started by Pacific Gas and Electric’s powerlines and how the company has avoided serious legal repercussions after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of 84 people.
The video below is a combination of the first four episodes of their series examining the connection between wildfires, PG&E, and its influence on state politics.
Four people died in the fire southwest of Redding, California
Investigators from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection looking for the cause of the Zogg Fire seized Pacific Gas and Electric equipment, the utility said Friday in a notification to the state Public Utilities Commission.
The Zogg Fire started about 9 miles southwest of Redding, California during hot, dry, and windy conditions on September 27, 2020 and ran south for 16 miles until firefighters were able to stop it at Highway 36 about 9 miles east of Platina.
Four people were killed in the fire and 103 residences and 101 other structures were destroyed. The estimated costs of suppressing the fire through October 9 are $29 million.
In PG&E’s filing to the PUC, the company said their equipment reported alarms and other activity in the area of Zogg Mine Road and Jenny bird Lane between approximately 2:40 p.m. and 3:06 p.m. on September 27, when the line recloser de-energized that portion of the circuit. The filing says wildfire detection cameras and satellite data showed heat or signs of smoke at that location between approximately 2:43 p.m. and 2:46 p.m.
The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office identified one of the victims as Alaina Michelle Rowe, 45, who was found dead along a road on Sept. 28. The sheriff’s department said another victim was a minor but did not report the identity. KRCR-TV in Redding reported that Rowe and her eight-year-old daughter Feyla died as they tried to escape the fire.
The two other victims, also found a day after the fire started, are Karin King, 79, who was found on the road where the fire started, and Kenneth Vossen, 52, who suffered serious burns that day and later died in a hospital.
Neither PG&E or CAL FIRE have disclosed exactly what equipment the investigators seized.
CAL FIRE has not released their findings about the cause of the Zogg Fire.
After their equipment was blamed for starting the Camp Fire, in June of this year PG&E pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for the 84 people that were killed when the fire burned through Paradise, California November 8, 2018. The fire also burned 154,000 acres and destroyed more than 18,000 structures. As part of the investigation for that fire, CAL FIRE personnel seized electrical equipment on or near a 100-year old PG&E transmission tower near the point of origin.
Previously the power company has reached settlements with victims from wildfires in 2015, 2017 and 2018, totaling about $25.5 billion, NBC news reported.
84 people were killed in the northern California fire in 2018
In a rather startling development, Pacific Gas & Electricity is expected to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter for the 84 people that were killed during the Camp Fire that burned through Paradise, California November 8, 2018. The fire also burned 154,000 acres and destroyed more than 18,000 structures.
Below is an excerpt from an article at NBC news:
PG&E has agreed to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of unlawfully causing a fire after it was blamed for the Camp Fire in Northern California, the state’s deadliest in history.
The fire, which burned through the Sierra Nevada foothills for half a month in late 2018, burning through three towns, was sparked by Pacific Gas and Electric Company equipment, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which identified ignition points in Butte County.
The settlement, which the utility reached with the Butte County District Attorney’s Office on March 17, was filed in the Superior Court of California in the county and made public Monday morning by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
It must still be approved by the Butte County Superior Court, as well as the federal bankruptcy court overseeing PG&E’s case. In January of 2019, PG&E filed for chapter 11 protection to, in part, set up a “Fire Victim Trust.”
A PG&E spokesman told NBC News that the utility has reached settlements with victims from 2015, 2017 and 2018 wildfires, totaling about $25.5 billion.
Recently updated information about Pacific Gas and Electric’s preemptive power shutoff for much of Northern California includes additional locations in the San Francisco Bay Area and the north coast near Eureka (see map above). This brings the total number of PG&E addresses affected to 800,000, which could translate to approximately two to four million residents.
Below is a zoomed-in map showing the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
According to PG&E they have been turning off the power during periods of high wildfire danger since 2013, never before at this magnitude.
Hi Don, hopefully we can help clear up the confusion. Here is a chart of the public safety power shutoffs we’ve done since our first in 2013. pic.twitter.com/l7c81Wx7XX
San Diego Gas and Electric was one of the pioneers in turning off the power to their customers when the wind blows and has been doing it for years.
“Moderate Santa Ana winds are expected to sweep through our region starting Thursday and peak on Friday morning, bringing elevated wildfire danger to the backcountry and the potential for Public Safety Power Shutoffs,” SDG&E said in a press release.
About 34,000 SDG&E customers have been notified their electricity may be turned off (see map below).
And in the Los Angeles area:
#DEVELOPING – Southern California Edison says 4500 customers have now had their power temporarily shut-off in LA, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties because of heightened fire risk #winds@CBSLA
The preemptive power shutoff for 800,000 addresses by Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California is directly affecting approximately two to four million residents. The power company took this action to prevent their feeble power line system from starting fires during this period of strong winds. Farther south in California, San Diego Gas and Electric has warned residents living at 30,000 addresses that their power could also be turned off this week.
The indirect effects of having no electricity expand to a much larger population when you consider traffic lights not working, tunnels on highways being shut down, plus the closure of gas stations, schools, and businesses. At some point cellular telephone towers and infrastructure may exhaust their emergency power supply systems, not to mention the batteries in the public’s cell phones.
Firefighters’ communications could be hampered by the disabling of their radio repeaters on mountain tops. Notifying residents of approaching fires and conducting evacuations in order to save lives could be challenging.
All that is the assessment of someone hundreds of miles away. For the thoughts of a person much closer to what is actually happening on the ground, we turn to Rob Carlmark, a meteorologist for ABC10 in Sacramento, who is surrounded by areas affected by PG&E’s power shutoff. Here, with his permission, are samples of what he has been writing on his Twitter account, @rcarlmark:
10:25 a.m. October 9, 2019
So here is what’s happening on the ground in California for the fire weather story. It’s genuinely freaking everybody out. If we get ZERO fires out of this (small miracle) the power shut off will be remembered for a long time. #MorningBlend10
Despite the pretty large media effort by PG&E to warn people of the power outages…many people we are talking to at closed gas stations had no idea. Turns out not everyone…especially in rural areas look at the internet all day. Some of these folks were BLINDSIDED. We have to take them at their word because they are far away from the windiest areas affecting lines or COULD affect lines. Many work far away, and fuel up often. If you are at a gas station…let’s face it you NEED gas and maybe can’t drive 15-20 miles away to get it…or wait in long lines to get gas. They also have an unexpected day off work…maybe cancelled school..kid/kids to pick up and figure out what to do for DAYS with no power. Of course the alternative is having power on…and a well known source for fires active.
This is a tough spot to be in for 100,000s of customers which likely includes million+total in actual population if you extrapolate for households etc.
They are not going to reimburse people for spoiled food since it was planned. If an outage was caused by an extreme event and weather they might…case by case basis.
Also remember a lot of these people just got hit with a non-renewal for home insurance and if they found someone…it costs drastically more. Also remember that many of these people are actively trying to move…sell their home…can’t find insurance for new buyer or are dropping their prices all the time. This is the APEX of stress in some of the most beautiful places you ever could live.
We need to add more places… the Bay area is about to find out today if one of the major tunnels…MAJOR…will have to shut down for power outages at noon. Traffic there is a true daily horror show…and if you find this out…at work you are going to freak.
We haven’t even talked about Southern California…they too will experience massive outage issues potentially…STRONGER winds and LOWER humidity.
WE HAVEN’T EVEN HAD A FIRE YET! If that happens…which the odds are fairly high…it immediately turns into a dangerous life-threatening event with little info, or ways to get info (no power…no gas).
Finally…peak wind will be middle of the night [Wednesday night/early Thursday]. It’s not just about power…there are DOZENS of ways fires start and any fluke accident could set up many communities for a dangerous moment.
If we can get through this…the power might not come back on for a few DAYS in some areas after the fact (no strong winds) while they inspect lines. fire or not this story will continue for many days more.
4:19 a.m. PDT October 10:
Update from what’s going on in California with this fire weather/power outage emergency. We are right in the thick of it and it’s not over yet.
We had a VERY close call in a town called Moraga near the Bay Area overnight. Fire broke out near a nice suburb surrounded by open land…a true urban/wildland interface situation. It was dicey, scary and in the middle of the night…gusts were 35mph+ nearby and evacuations were door to door with no cell service and power shut off. By the hard work of firefighters and perhaps the advantage of having roads and access the fire is mostly contained and a nightmare scenario has been avoided…for now.
From what we can tell this is an area with a planned power outage and it’s a reminder that a fire can start form dozens of different ways…not just power arcs. We don’t know cause, but since the power was shut off there it’s worth exploring other causes
Supplies are running really low in power outage areas…water, flashlights, generators etc. have been in short supply like a true disaster emergency situation.
Easily the biggest complaint is “It’s not windy at my house…the power should be back on” Gusts near the dams/hydropower/transmission lines though are VERY strong up to 52 mph so upstream impacts are creating downstream confusion
In short…it’s ongoing…people are on edge…every stoplight is a four way stop with traffic issues…people have NO idea when power is coming back…it’s a big deal that is getting bigger today.
I do see the weather changing tonight for many…less wind but still dry so there is an end to this in the weather world…but the power thing…it’s going to be some time.