The Dixie Fire, started by a tree down on Pacific Gas & Electric power lines in California, has prompted the energy giant to finally bury its high-energy lines in a safety measure long overdue.
On July 13, 2021, a tree fell onto an unsecured PG&E power line in Butte County, California, and sparked the Dixie Fire. By the next day, the fire was 133 square miles and hundreds of homes had to be evacuated. As of this writing on July 23, 2021, the Dixie Fire is considered a megafire. It has burned over 220 square miles, and is less than 20 percent contained according to Cal Fire. They expect it to continue to grow rapidly as long as the dry weather continues.
The Dixie Fire’s range very nearly overlaps that of the Camp Fire in 2018, which was also sparked by PG&E equipment and killed more than 80 people when it blazed through the town of Paradise.
Immediately after the cause of Dixie was announced, PG&E announced an ambitious new plan to try to reduce the danger of fire. It now plans to bury over 10,000 miles of its power lines, especially those that run through forested rural lands.
The idea has been floated before, but due to massive expense and labor constraint, PG&E has never seriously considered the move. Now, under new CEO Patricia Poppe, the company regard it as its only ethical choice of action.
“It’s too expensive not to do it. Lives are on the line,” Poppe told reporters on July 21, 2021.
The project will take several years, and cost between $15 and $30 billion. It will also require a massive new investment in labor for the energy company. Line-burying projects currently underway have managed to bury 70 miles of cable a year. They hope to bump that up to 1,000 miles per year for this.
The funding for this project will come from customers – the company itself is already severely in debt, largely due to a trust fund set up to pay victims of previous fires.
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