Thousands of miles of overhead power lines run through cities, fields and forests in California And it was only enough for a tree to fall on one of those lines to unleash a raging fire in the most populous state in the United States, afflicted by a fragile and outdated infrastructure.
Californians know it well: every summer exposes them to going dark. Since the red flag of fire alert is raised, preventive cuts deprive thousands of electricity, and sometimes millions, of people
A deer among the houses in Greenville, California, near the Dixie Fire. Photo: AFP
In recent weeks, Los Angeles residents have been ordered a few times as well turn off the air conditioning and oven and unplug the electrical appliances to avoid overloading the network.
Fifth world economy, California suffers from the obsolescence of its infrastructure and some electricity operators were accused of privileging their profits over investing in the security and modernization of their networks.
To reinforce this security, the private electricity provider Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced its intention to bury 16,000 kilometers of power lines in 10 years to avoid potential damage, including fires.
Patti Poppe, president of PG&E, said that announcement was planned for several months but indicated that it was anticipated because “no more could be expected”, after the company was questioned by the start of a new fire in mid-July. , the Dixie Fire.
The Dixie Fire was caused by the mere fall of a tree on a power line, according to a preliminary investigation.
To make matters worse, the Dixie unleashed just a few miles from where a PG&E power line started the deadliest fire in California’s recent history in 2018: 86 people were killed and 18,000 buildings destroyed in the small town of Paradise, which practically flames. wiped off the map.
Smoke seen from space. Photo: AFP
The governor of the state, Gavin Newsom, who had already accused the operator of “greed and mismanagement”, demanded this week that PG&E and other providers “hold themselves accountable” and invest in their firefighting strategy.
Would burying the electrical cables then the solution?
That would reduce the risk of fires, less cables are damaged by extreme heat and also give that operator an opportunity to modernize their equipment, Mikhail Chester, an engineering professor at Arizona State University, told AFP.
The Dixie Fire was caused by the mere fall of a tree on a power line. Photo: AFP
He warned, however, that for now climate change is progressing faster than infrastructure redesign.
If 2020 was the worst year in modern California fire history, 2021 is likely to break that record.
“To face climate change, we need to make infrastructures more agile and flexible to be able to respond to changes as quickly as they occur,” he stressed.
The problem goes far beyond the California wildfires. Hurricanes, tornadoes or other extreme weather events are on the rise due to global warming so millions of Americans will be forced to learn to live in the dark.