California Wildfire Forces Thousands to Evacuate, Power Outages Cause Panic

Nicholas L Shimanek

A huge wildfire in California destroyed more than 200 homes and displaced over 800,000 customers, including some of the most influential people in America. Before the fires reached their apex, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) shut off the power for almost 2.5 million Californians, causing a panic. Now the state utility provider is being investigated for possible misconduct.

One man died when the power to his oxygen tank was shut off and he was unable to reach his battery-powered tank in time.

PG&E shut off the power to prevent more fires from being spread by power cables. Their reputation was potentially at risk after they improperly handled forest-fire emergencies in the past.

The California State Senate unanimously approved a measure to investigate the company and the possibility of malpractice during their handling of the situation.

State officials are facing heavy criticism from indigenous community groups, which claim they have warned the government for quite some time about the need for planned bush burnings.  Native American tribes in the region have paired with ranchers and other American citizens to purposefully burn away dried-out brush. When this is done on a large-enough scale, it prevents massive wildfires which grow completely out of control.

Wildfires, being a natural disaster, do not seem to be a concern of government policy. However, methods such as controlled burns have been common knowledge for centuries. This practice has been used by numerous cultures to prevent massive disasters, and yet the modern state of California does not organize itself properly to progressively combat this type of calamity.

The current policy of California is reactive rather than proactive.  It does not solve the problem but instead tries to minimize the symptoms.  The policy focuses on mass containment of fires. This is typically accompanied by power shutdowns (with the type of warnings that PG&E failed to give this year) to stop an electric current from creating more flames, evacuation of potentially threatened residential areas, and providing aid to those whose homes were destroyed.  However, this policy does not do much to prevent fires or to reduce the size of the fires that do occur.