The state of California and several high-risk counties are already gearing up for fire season, and another lawsuit accuses PG&E of price gouging as the state and the utility try to figure out how to compensate wildfire victims.
Last year’s wildfire season started shockingly early in the spring, and extended all the way into November, with the Camp Fire that would become the deadliest in California history. While we did see a statewide spate of about 240 wildfires in one week during the June heat wave, we’ve been thus far been spared any major fires the likes of the last three years. But peak wildfire season is arriving now, and the New York Times sent four reporters across the state to assess how California is preparing the the 2019 wildfires. What’s surprising is that state officials have identified large swaths of Contra Costa County as high-risk for the next potential wildfire. What’s not surprising is that Lake County is extremely nervous after being hit with major wildfires three of the last four years — and according to the Lake County Record Bee, had two wildfires with one fatality just this past weekend. Both are fires now contained.
“There’s a lot of P.T.S.D,” Lake County Fire Protection District chief Sapeta told the Times, noting that people are frantically calling 911 when it’s just neighbors having a barbecue or dust rising from a quarry. “People call when they see any smoke whatsoever.”
The Times notes that Governor Gavin Newsom has earmarked $21 billion in compensations funds for future wildfire victims. Critics aren’t happy, though, that a recent bill he just signed allows utilities to pass the lion’s share of safety costs onto customers. KCRA reports that PG&E customers are suing the state and the PUC for allowing what they think is price gouging.
"They have found a way to finance how to pay for the fires, not how to stop the fires," their attorney Michael Aguirre told the station. The suit notes that PG&E has donated hundreds of thousands to Newsom and a slew of other lawmakers, and alleges they’ve bought favorable treatment from Sacramento.
PG&E has deservedly become a boogeyman and punching bag for their mishandling of maintenance issues that led to several of the fires, but as the Times notes, we have a new corporate villain on the wildfire landscape. Insurance companies are charging five times the amount for home insurance as they had previously, or in some cases, just refusing to renew policies in affected areas. That means as peak wildfire season gets underway, many who lose their homes are likely to live through two disasters, the second being their lack of insurance to get them back on their feet.
Image: Forest Service Photography via Flickr