PG&E Under Fire as Smoke Clears in Northern California

Homeowner Phil Rush looks at the remains of his home destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. Rush said he and his wife and dog escaped with only their medication, a bag of dog food when flames overtook their entire neighborhood on October 9. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Robyn Beck — AFP/Getty Images

As the embers cool from the recent record-breaking fires in Northern California, the time for reckoning and rebuilding begins.

As state investigators begin to look into what caused the fires in the first place, it’s the local utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, that’s feeling the heat. Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission are investigating potential neglect on the part of PG&E that might have contributed to the fires. One couple has already sued the utility directly.

The suspicion revolves around PG&E’s responsibility to make sure their power lines are well maintained and cleared of vegetation. Though the company spends more than $400 million per year on line maintenance, it has been fined in conjunction with other wildfires in the state based on failures to adequately clear the lines.

Read: It’s Impossible to Prevent Wildfires. So How Do We Prepare?

PG&E shares have plummeted since the investigations were announced, and Jerry Hill, a state senator, has already called for the utility to be broken up if it is found responsible. Senator Hill’s district includes San Bruno, where an explosion on a PG&E gas line in 2010 killed eight people.

The California Department of Insurance reported a statewide preliminary estimate of $1.05 billion in insured-property damage – a number that is expected to rise. Other sources report damages of more than $3 billion in Sonoma County alone, which experienced some of the worst damage.

Read: California’s Wildfire Losses Are Estimated at Over $1 Billion, Insurance Officials Say

PG&E is not the only suspect drawing controversy. On Thursday, the Sonoma County Sheriff, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Breitbart, and Buzzfeed engaged in a slanging match over exaggerated allegations that one fire was started by an undocumented immigrant.

The acting director of ICE said the Sheriff’s office had “endangered the community” by “refusing” to hold the individual on multiple occasions. On his office’s official Facebook page, Sheriff Rob Giordano said a statement by ICE was “inaccurate, inflammatory, and damages the relationship we have with our community,” emphasising that the sheriff’s office had acted in accordance with the law.

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