In the latest PG&E scandal, the utility says it “mistakenly” flew into a San Mateo County park with a heli-saw, a helicopter with a gigantic set of spinning blades dangling beneath.
One measure PG&E has taken to hopefully limit all these wildfires it keeps starting is tree maintenance. And one tool they’ve adopted for tree and brush maintenance is a powerful contraption called the heli-saw, which the company describes as “a series of vertically positioned 30-inch diameter circular saws suspended from a high-performance helicopter.” There are of course very strict safety guidelines and regulations for using the heli-saw, given the numbers of humans and animals that could potentially be killed by one heli-saw mistake.
And wouldn't you know, PG&E failed to follow these safety guidelines and regulations! NBC Bay Area reports that Cal Fire has cited PG&E for using the heli-saw in a public park without notifying the public. The park in question is Wunderlich Park in Woodside, and the date of the unauthorized heli-sawing was December 9, 2021.
“County Parks had staff on duty at the park while this was occurring, but they had no idea, nor did they know of any warnings issued to the public users of the park at that time,” Cal Fire inspector Richard Sampson said in a citation to PG&E. “No trail or area closures had been placed or signs put out to keep the public out of the area, as would have been the case if the county knew about the operation.”
I want to be in the meeting where this idea was proposed pic.twitter.com/Bf5KpQF716— Tariq Rauf (@tariqrauf) September 18, 2019
PG&E admits the error, and says the heli-saw operator just “mistakenly” strayed into the park after doing permitted sawing on an adjacent property. The utility adds that there were “no safety issues,” and “nor was the public in danger at any time.”
While vegetation management is critically important to reduce forest fires, we cannot substitute safety for speed. I spoke with @nbcbayarea about @PGE4Me's unpermitted use of a helisaw in Wunderlich Park, and the violation notice from @CAL_FIRE. @SMCParks https://t.co/UVMmkTeY6l— Marc Berman (@AsmMarcBerman) February 28, 2022
But that might depend on how you define safety risk. According to the citation, PG&E left behind the hundreds of branches cut down in the operation, which created… a fire risk resulting from a fire mitigation effort. “All of this in a county park,” the citation added.
The heli-saw tool probably has its right times and places it can be used effectively. Clearly this is not one of them, but probably one of the least-bad things that can happen when you hand a weapon out of a Saw movie to a company that’s pled guilty to some 90 counts of manslaughter over the last four years.
Image: PG&E Currents