San Francisco Chronicle (August 4, 2018)

Editorial: Cooler heads on PG&E fire rescue

The Legislature will reconvene this week, with wildfires burning across California, to consider whether power companies should be held accountable for blazes they start. With the causes of most of this year’s fires and some of last year’s yet to be determined, it would be wrong to preemptively excuse those who might be responsible.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has spent lavishly to convince legislators that they must absolve utilities of fires that have grown more dangerous in a warming climate. With the utilities’ considerable riches behind it and an extraordinarily disastrous fire season under way for the second consecutive year, the argument may come across as persuasive.

What lawmakers must remember is that no matter how much a hotter, drier climate helps fuel and fan flames, wildfires don’t start spontaneously. Especially in California, where lightning is relatively rare, most are caused by human activity, and a remarkable number of recently concluded investigations have found PG&E at fault.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has concluded that all 16 of the 2017 Wine Country fires it has finished investigating were started by PG&E’s equipment. Eleven of those cases have been referred for criminal investigation based on evidence that the utility may have broken state law. Meanwhile, the cause of the Tubbs Fire, which became last year’s deadliest when it raged into Santa Rosa, has yet to be determined.

What lawmakers must remember is that no matter how much a hotter, drier climate helps fuel and fan flames, wildfires don’t start spontaneously. Especially in California, where lightning is relatively rare, most are caused by human activity, and a remarkable number of recently concluded investigations have found PG&E at fault.
— San Francisco Chronicle Editorial, August 4, 2018