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The Pacific Gas and Electric Company is an American Investor-Owned Utility institution whose headquarters are located in San Francisco, California. It is California’s largest gas and electric utility company, running almost half of California’s utilities statewide. Even with California’s high fire risk status, PE&G and their neglect and improper upkeep of their equipment contributed to the increasing threats threat through California in the past few years. In November 2018, a historical wildfire destroyed the city of Paradise, California, in the United States of America. The fire claimed several lives and property in which PG&E was held accountable due to many types of equipment and standard procedure failures. Possibilities like improper equipment upkeep, tree maintenance, and lack of quality assurance played drastically into these fires.

Looking into Pacific Gas and Electric, you can see the trend of neglect, and improper standards held throughout the company. Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, a California native and staff at the Los Angeles Times, believes that PG&E played a role in the ignition of the wildfire. He states that the PG&E equipment other than powerlines might have sparkled a majority of the fires that destroyed lives (Reyes-Velarde, 2019). The source indicates that some of the most visible causes of the wildfire were the faulty powerlines that were installed and managed by the PG&E across California. On the other hand, the source also suggests that poor vegetation management by PG&E played a significant role in the ignition of the fire. Indications that the PG&E admitted being having been partly accountable for the ‘Highway Fire’, which lasted for four consecutive days claiming 85 American lives (Reyes-Velarde, 2019). It would be impractical to pose an argument that the company could not have been aware of the state of its equipment and the underlying dangers that the material posted to the environment. A large company like PG&E must have regular checks on the state of its equipment, considering the nature of the business that it is involved in and the dangers of faulty equipment to the environment. Also, with a high fire risk state, this should not have been where they lacked.

Many local sources also indicate that the fundamental causes of the fires were faulty outdated powerlines (Avalo, 2019; Reyes-Velarde, 2019). Despite the fact the PG&E company was able to contain a big part of the fire, the ‘Highway Fire’ lasted for four days, claiming 85 innocent lives. I believe in this case; the November 2018 California fire has PG&E’s prints all over it. For instance, the PG&E company admitted before a federal court that its equipment had caused at least ten fires that have been witnessed in North and Central California this year (Reyes-Velarde, 2019). Therefore, the question of whether PG&E company should be held accountable for the California wildfire is answered by the admission of the company itself for its negligence and ignorance of different warning signs before the arson. It is worth noting that PG&E is the largest utility in California, and its revenue is massive, considering the population that it serves in the state of California alone. Recently, the PG&E shut power supply to thousands of residents in California to avoid another arson incident amid strong winds (Reyes-Velarde, 2019). In a report to the Los Angeles Times, PG&E claimed that it had offered the court detailed information on the cause of different fires across California and that the company was committed to undertaking efforts that are directed towards the prevention of similar incidences. However, the recent blackout that the company sent across California due to the state of its equipment which could not survive the winds is a sign that the company’s commitment to the prevention of arson in California could be misguided. For instance, several factors involve climate changes that can facilitate ignition and spread of fire apart from the wind. On the other hand, California residents do not deserve the dramatic blackouts that they are currently experiencing because of faulty cables because they are entitled to the maximum consumption of their purchased ‘light’. Sources indicate that California is comprised of many a high fire and wind zones. This plays a significant role in electrical utility standards. For instance, the third most significant source of hazard in California is a wildfire, especially the Wild-land Urban Interface (WUI) in the recent past (McBride, 2019). This is not only founded based on current records regarding fire as the third most significant source of hazard but also reflects the larger magnitude of destructive fire (Keeley & Symphard, 2019). California’s geographical location with wind and fire together makes them an underlying dynamic regarding arson hazards statewide. Due to the events that have unfolded in recent years concerning incidents of wildfire in California, it has emerged that fire is an annual threat to the state.

The destruction that the state of California has experienced through wildfire is massive in terms of loss of property and innocent lives. In 2018 alone, California’s fires destroyed over 18,000 building structures and evacuated over 53,000 people from their homes. However, the leading sources of hazard (earthquakes) which occur annually in California have claimed fewer lives and destroyed less than fires in the state’s history (Avalo, 2019). On the other hand, flooding is considered the second largest that has life and property in California as well, but again fewer lives than fires. An informed comparison of the three sources of danger would reveal that the first two, earthquakes and floods, are purely caused by natural factors, and their prevention is relatively technical. In the case of fires throughout California, even though natural elements play a part in the ignition and spreading of the fires, it is prudent to note that man-made elements have played heavily, in many of these fires. Generating stations, powerlines, and transformers contributed to these fires. These all were placed in service to power our needs. Curbed through undertaking preventive measures, like proper quality assurance, and oversight because the primary cause has been identified as ignorance from stakeholders. For example, if the faulty powerlines are inspected, fixed, and re-enforced by the PG&E, this could minimalize the possibilities of arson. It is impossible to ignore the part of the role that California’s geographical location, topography, terrain, and increasing population play in the activities related to the arson incidences that have been witnessed in the recent past. It is crucial to note the fact that California is located in a High-Density Forest Area, an aspect that plays a significant role in facilitating the spread of wildfire, thus the process of taming the fires and reducing massive destruction across the state (McBride, 2019). There are also human factors, other equipment factors, wind factors. Infrastructurally California’s population is growing fast. These factors are more of a threat to the state – during dry seasons when the ignitions of fire are easy, and its spreading can be quickly accelerated by the Santa Ana Winds and facilitated by the dry grasslands deep into the forest, especially in the more northern parts of California. The forest covers a significantly large piece of land and controlling the fires can be relatively harder in regions like this, when one has limited personnel and equipment. California firefighters can only do some much when natural elements against them.

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On the other hand, the state of California is continually experiencing extreme weather conditions. For instance, the high-pressure systems in the Great Basin play a significant role in driving the Santa Anna Winds to the southern parts of California, hence posing a threat to in cases where equipment like powerlines are not strong enough to sustain the winds (Avalo, 2019). This is the fact that has led to the famous blackout that California experienced recently. A combination of different natural sources and hazards throughout California has made the whole state a high-risk fire zone.

Therefore, the fact that California is a high-risk fire zone necessitates massive effort from relevant institutions to prevent further disasters across the state of California. Future environmental management measures might help to curb future fire problems in California. PG&E, for instance, has submitted a proposal to the senate that requires all electric utilities in California to develop effective strategies on how to construct regular maintenance checks and effectively operate their electrical equipment in an attempt to minimize the possibilities of occurrence of catastrophic wildfires in future (McBride, 2019). Furthermore, PG&E has developed a wildfire safety plan (WSP) that offers insight into the dynamics that can be used to achieve more enhanced and accelerated responses to cases of wildfire in the future (Keeley, 2018).

PG&E through its WSP program suggests that shutting off power in California is a necessary measure in cases where extreme weather condition threatens a fire ignition (Avalo, 2019). With efficient preventive measures, it can be argued that PG&E should fix its powerlines first or install equipment that can sustain pressure from extreme weather conditions. As of now, PG&E proposed rolling blackouts, securing power throughout the state will be an option. They justify how rolling blackouts in California by revealing the role it plays combating the weather condition. This does not sound like the most effective plan to curb the disastrous events that are brought forth by catastrophic wildfire. Nevertheless, the public and PG&E with the involvement of the court are aware of the underlying threats that the faulty powerlines and equipment that belong to the PG&E pose hazardous risks. It would be more practical and workable if the court orders the closure of the company along with compensation to the consumers of the company’s product until the faulty powerlines and equipment are fixed to a standard where they can sustain in extreme weather conditions in that geographical location.

Research by Alexandra Syphard and Jon Keeley suggests that fuel and wind are the most dominant factors in the ignition and spread of wildfire (Keeley and Symphard, 2019). This is evident from the data that have been prepared by different researchers on the topic of the California wildfire. However, it is equally important to insist on the fact that there needs to be a solution to the natural causes of wildfire, including the two significant sources of hazard in California, earthquakes, and floods, considering their capabilities to ignite destructive fires human causes. This can only be done through consultative engagement between relevant parties that are concerned about the magnitude that these wildfires.

Today, wildfires are a significant source of hazard in modern-day California. Therefore, both time and resources must be massively invested in humanitarian efforts that are meant to establish and develop preventive measures to curb the ignition and spread of fires. With the population growing and the risk of human error, fires are most likely going to happen more often in California. On the other hand, accountability from the PG&E regarding both large-scale and small-scale fires that have been witnessed in the past is inevitable and long overdue. It can be further asserted that PG&E negligence is still ongoing, and relevant measures should be taken to ensure the safety of the Californian population. It is prudent to note that any preventive measures directed towards preventing the wildfire from menace another disastrous wildfire. Utility companies throughout California like PG&E need to improve standards and reduce fire hazards from their equipment. With California’s population growing and the geographical location being so dry, there need to be fire risk standards. Because the root causes of the fire have not been eliminated yet. Overall, they will never eliminate fires, but PG&E, the state, and local officials can reduce this with possible measures.

References

  1. Avalos, G. (2019, August 14). PG&E Has Missed Many Trees, and Work Indent Quality Is ‘Questionable’ to Prevent Wildfires: Court Report. The Mercury News [San Francisco]. Retrieved https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/08/14/pge-has-missed-many-trees-work-quality-is-questionable-in-effort-to-prevent-wildfires-court-report/
  2. Keeley, J. E., & Syphard, A. D. (2019). Twenty-First Century California, USA, Wildfires: Fuel-Dominated Vs. Wind-Dominated Fires. Fire Ecology, 15(1). doi:10.1186/s42408-019-0041-0
  3. McBride, J. R. (2019). Fuel Management and Wildfire Mitigation Proposal for the University of California Property in Strawberry and Claremont Canyons, Professional Forester #1306. Retrieved: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56e612b159827e4b847675c9/t/5d82ba700ec48a2b5ba1ec0d/1568848499754/Fuel+Management+Proposal+single+page+24+page+online+version.pdf
  4. Reyes-Velarde, A. (2019, September 10). PG&E Admits Its Equipment May Have Sparked Several Fires This Year. LA Times [Los Angeles]. Retrieved https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-10-10/pge-admits-equipment-may-have-sparked-several-fires-this-year
  5. Keeley, J. E. (2018). Historical Patterns of Wildfire Ignition Sources in California Ecosystems. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 27(12), 781-799. doi:10.1071/WF18026.
  6. Syphard, A. D., & Keeley, J. E. (2019). Factors Associated with Structure Loss in the 2013–2018 California Wildfires. Fire, 2(3), 49. doi:10.3390/fire2030049.
  7. Sullivan, E., Jackson, C., Broberg, D., O’Dair, M., & Velan, V. (2019). California Lawmakers Should Take Action to Mitigate the Effects of the 2019 PG&E Bankruptcy. Retrieved https://sciencepolicy.berkeley.edu/wpcontent/uploads/2019/07/PGE_memo_20190725.pdf

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