After Lawsuits, California Power Company Cuts Off Power to Prevent Wildfires

California utility Pacific Gas and Electric cut the power to thousands of customers starting on Sunday evening as a response to a red flag warning to a high risk of fire. The utility feared that strong winds, extreme dryness and high temperatures could lead to another devastating fire.

The move comes after the state is considering allowing the company to pass the cost of litigation on to residents in the aftermath of lawsuits that could range into the billions of dollars.

Evidence suggests that poorly-maintained lines were to blame for the 2017 Tubbs fire. The fire burned 37,000 acres and led to $3.2 billion in damages.

The risk of fire with power lines is well-known. After the Oakland Hills fire in 1991, the affected region was rebuilt with underground electrical lines to help mitigate the risk of fire.

The utility has been working on maintaining the lines, but conditions over the weekend were concerning enough that the company made the decision to cut the power. The utility alerted customers to the power outage on Saturday night. Personnel also notified the 4,500 Medical Baseline customers. Power is essential for these customers, who have an essential health care need, such as using a ventilator to breathe.

President Trump has criticized California’s wildfire prevention steps and has threatened to withhold billions of dollars in funding amid one of the most destructive fire seasons in history.

“It’s hurting our budget, it’s hurting our country and they better get their act together,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting about the state’s forestry management.

Wildfires have destroyed nearly 2.8 million acres over the last two years. Trump has said that the state should do more to remove debris and rotten trees that fuel wildfires.

Governor Brown has defended the state’s efforts to prevent fires, including a law that requires utilities to have fire prevention plans and ordered a doubling of 500,000 acres of land open to vegetation thinning.

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