As the massive Kincade fire in California raged on Saturday, California residents and elected officials turned their anger on utility company PG&E, which many are blaming for the fire's start.
The massive fire broke out on Wednesday night in Sonoma County in an area known as the Geysers, which is a giant complex of geothermal plants that uses steam trapped under the earth's surface to produce electricity. Due to drought conditions in the area, PG&E had cut power to businesses and homes in the area to reduce wildfire risk.
Due to wind and parched conditions, the fire quickly spread to a massive area, in spite of tremendous efforts to contain it. Latest estimates show that the fire has consumed over 27,000 acres and have forced massive evacuation efforts in the area. The smoke from the fire has severely impacted the air quality in the area and has also begun to impact the air in the bay area.
No fatalities have yet been reported from the fire but the damage to property has been astronomical. According to news reports from Saturday morning, an unnamed local firefighter was taken to the hospital with burn injuries, along with two people he rescued from a house. The injuries were described as "not life threatening."
Although the cause of the fire has not been officially determined, PG&E officials alerted state officials that there was a malfunction on a 230,000 volt transmission line at 9:20pm on Wednesday night near the location where the first reports of the Kincade fire started. The first 911 reports concerning the fire were just a few minutes later, at 9:27pm on Wednesday. That has led many to conclude, in the absence of an official confirmation, that PG&E is responsible for the fire.
In a news conference on Friday night, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) treated PG&E's culpability for the fire as a foregone conclusion, saying, "We should not have to be here. Years and years of greed, years and years of mismanagement in the utilities, in particularly PG&E. Greed has precipitated a lack of intentionality and focus and a hardening our grid, undergrounding their transmission lines. They simply did not do their job."
Newsom went on, promising, "We will hold them to an account that they have never been held to in the past. We will do everything in our power to restructure PG&E so it is a completely different entity. When they get out of bankruptcy by June 30th of next year, we will hold them accountable for the business interruption and costs associated with these blackouts and we will do the same with the other two investor owned utilities in Southern California."
When asked whether he had any definite information on the cause of the fire, however, Newsom admitted that it was actually too early to definitively determine the cause and that the investigation into the fire's cause remains ongoing.
PG&E is also facing massive blowback from California residents over rolling power outages that have left residents who are attempting to prepare for evacuation without power. However, PG&E says the blackouts are necessary to prevent potential future fires in especially dry areas.
California has received a FEMA grant to aid firefighting efforts, and Governor Newsom — who has been one of the president's most strident critics — has publicly thanked President Donald Trump for his efforts to help fight the fire.