California utility accused of botching power outages and endangering lives

CBS News 1 month ago

California's largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), now says the two wildfires that broke out Sunday less than 20 miles northeast of San Francisco in Lafayette may have been caused by its own electrical malfunctions. Despite cutting power to more than 2.5 million people, the electricity was not turned off in the area because it wasn't designated as high risk.

"If we did go into a mode where we wanted to prevent everything from happening then we'd have to shut the whole system down and that's just not acceptable," PG&E president and CEO Andy Vesey said.

The utility also says it failed to notify 23,000 customers including 500 with medical conditions before shutting off their power. Now the state is launching an investigation into the utility's strategy and the threat it poses to the people caught in the middle of it, reports CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti.

"We're going to investigate all of this and we're going to make determinations as to culpability," California Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

Six days after the Kincade fire first ignited, firefighters are scrambling to put out hot spots in hopes of getting an upper hand before wind gusts reaching as high as 50 mph kick up again. The Kincade Fire has burned more than 115 square miles and destroyed nearly 60 homes.   

"The wind will carry burning material sometimes miles ahead of the fire… so we're having to go around and one by one deal with those and mitigate those dangers as they pop up, which is always a difficulty – it being dynamic and not just a set fire line," Cal Fire spokesman Rhett Pratt said.

In Southern California, where high winds fueled the Getty Fire in the early morning hours Monday, authorities are manning the fire lines with additional personnel. Their concern: predicted gusts of up to 80 mph.

"I've asked my command staff to do everything possible to ensure that the line is… as cold as possible before those winds kick up," Los Angeles fire chief Ralph Terrazas said.

Because of the wind concern in Northern California, PG&E said it will move forward with its third power outage in a week. This time, as many as 3.8 million people could be impacted across 29 counties.


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