California is in a state of emergency, as the wildfires return to wreak havoc, this time in the south. The lack of precipitation and moisture, dry vegetation, and wind are huge contributing factors. The US forest service reported 129 million dead trees in the state, from previous drought and beetle infestation are now serving as perfect, dry, food for the fires. In 2016, although heavy rainfall ended the drought trend, it also contributed to the growth of thick, tall grass, that is now actually fueling the current fires as well. Additionally, more than one large California wildfire has been caused by downed power lines in the past. Combine that with annual high wind trends (sometimes exceeding 80 miles per hour) and the state has a recipe for disaster.
Currently, California is facing one of its worst wildfire seasons in its history, with five major fires blazing at once, the Thomas fire in the Ventura and Santa Barbara counties being a major factor. This year alone, about 1.36 million acres have been devastated by wildfires in California, destroying vegetation that hadn’t burned in decades, along with many homes.
Utility companies, like SoCal Edison are now shutting off power to thousands of Southern California residents’ homes, especially in extremely high wind areas, like Riverside County. This is an unusual, but quite possibly effective, attempt to lessen the wildfire risk from electrical line sparks.
San Diego Gas & Electric did the same in a southeast region of San Diego when a large portion of Southern California was under a red flag alert for fires. With a network of over 170 weather stations equipped with wind sensors, they are able to detect areas with strong wind gusts and thus choose where their “de-energizing” techniques will be necessary. They claim that de-energizing is an important measure they are taking to protect the safety of the communities they serve.
Apart from their facility and equipment damage caused by fires, utility companies now face a serious liability risk under inverse condemnation and negligence claims. In 2007, Sempra (over SDG&E), Edison, and a telecom company all paid out, as a result of liability for wildfire damage in Malibu and San Diego County that destroyed land, homes, and lives. Apart from these liability risks, those same utility companies now also face stock market repercussions. SoCal Edison’s stock has dropped drastically, as it is believed its facilities may be linked to the disaster.