Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilityPG&E potentially started the same amount of fires in 2021 than they did in 2020 altogether | KRCR
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PG&E potentially started the same amount of fires in 2021 than they did in 2020 altogether

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CHICO, Calif. (KRCR) — While lightning strikes are to blame for some fires ravaging the Northstate currently, a handful have been linked back to PG&E equipment by PG&E themselves. It's a story Northstate communities know too well, but California Governor Gavin Newsom says he's keeping them accountable.

When equipment from a public utility is linked to a fire, the utility is required to report the incident to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the state agency that governs them. CPUC requires this reporting if the fire caused $50,000 or more of property damage, a fatality or injury, or provoked increased media attention.

So far in 2021, PG&E has submitted 22 reports according to the corporation's website. Six of those were property damage claims received this year from incidents dating back to 2017. That leaves 16 fires potentially ignited by their equipment this year, including the Freedom Fire in Santa Cruz County, the Slope Fire in Fresno County, the Dixie and Fly Fires in Butte and Plumas counties which merged in late July and has since become the nation's largest burning blaze.

According to the utility's reports publicly available, these 16 fires in 2021 equal the reported 16 fires linked to PG&E equipment in the entire year of 2020. 12 incident reports were filed to CPUC by PG&E that year with the remaining four filed this year after the property damage claims reached the utility.

Between these two years, the most common causes were listed as malfunctioning equipment, trees that fell into power lines, and unknown causes. These fires range from small structure fires contained to the building to explosive blazes that have engulfed hundreds of thousands of acres of forests, homes, and communities.

While visiting the August Complex Burn scar in Glenn County Wednesday, Governor Newsom said he's staying on top of the utility.

"What are you doing to keep them accountable?" asks KRCR during a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

"I think you know, I've been probably one of the most aggressive governors in California history to hold PG&E accountable," responds Newsom.

The governor went on to list actions already taken on the utility in recent years, like replacing its entire board, bringing in a new CEO, implementing more aggressive oversight in the California Legislature, and investments to harden and underground miles worth of powerlines. PG&E announced in mid-July that 10,000 miles of its powerlines would be underground, starting with areas most prone to fire danger.

"Now it's going to take years. It's not enough, but it's a start. New wildfire cameras, new equipment, new helicopters they're investing in as well as vegetation management on their side of the aisle, with the aisle used, not just PG&E, but the others in the state, in consort with the state of California. Trust me: we are keeping laser focus of oversight and accountability on PG&E."

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While CPUC has been made aware of these incidents, these reports are only preliminary and do not explicitly admit to igniting any fire. It took almost two years before the utility pleaded guilty to starting the Camp Fire in 2018.

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