By Lynsey Paulo
Even though the drought emergency is over, the damage has already been done.
The drought and bark beetle infestation have killed more than 100 million trees in California, and U.S. Forest Service scientists expect elevated levels of tree mortality to continue into this year in some areas. That’s why PG&E is working with local Fire Safe Councils, providing nearly $2 million in project funding to reduce the threat of wildfires.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers, employees and the communities we serve,” said Kevin Dasso, PG&E vice president of electric asset management. “While most California counties received significant rainfall this winter, the tree mortality crisis will linger for years. And, as the Governor points out, the next drought could be around the corner. That is why we’re taking extraordinary measures to protect our electric infrastructure, and help local Fire Safe Councils dedicated to making communities more fire safe.”
This year, PG&E will be funding 43 local Fire Safe Council and other 501(c)3 projects in 21 counties. Projects include fuel reduction, shaded fuel breaks, emergency access and chipping programs. This is the fourth consecutive year PG&E has funded local Fire Safe Council projects to help residents protect their homes, communities and the environment from wildfire. Many are focused on creating fuel breaks and emergency access to help Cal Fire and local fire departments safely fight wildfires when they do occur.
“The drought in California has been declared over, but the ongoing threat of wildfires due to hot weather and rapid brush growth from the heavy rains, is now facing many communities in the state,” said Jerry Davies, Chairman of the California Fire Safe Council.
“The California Fire Safe Council is a leader in encouraging statewide fire prevention programs, and values the continuing collaboration and financial support that PG&E provides to California communities to implement fire prevention programs,” he added. “It allows these communities to meet their fire prevention needs to protect lives, homes and properties.”
PG&E is working hard to reduce the threat of wildfires. The company inspects all of its overhead electric lines each year and also inspects trees along power lines in high fire-danger areas twice a year. As a result of these inspections, PG&E removed more than 236,000 dead or dying trees last year to prevent them from contacting power lines, starting wildfires or contributing to other public safety risks. This is in addition to the 1.2 million trees that PG&E works each year.
The company also created a dead tree wood clean-up program to help its customers. PG&E will manage the wood on property or haul away wood from dead trees felled by the company to protect power lines, at no cost to the homeowner, in qualifying counties where tree mortality is high. The wood is being sawn for use as lumber or chipped for use in biomass facilities to generate renewable energy.
As part of its summer fire detection patrols, PG&E will fly five planes over routes in the daytime, which is when fires are most likely to spark. Last year, PG&E detected and reported more than 140 fires, supporting a quick response to fires before they spread.
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.