“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Aug 2, 2021
On July 18, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), California’s largest utility company, reported that its equipment “most likely” had caused the massive Dixie Fire burning in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Earlier in the week, a repairman, checking on a local power outage, had found that a tree had fallen onto a power line conductor, blowing several fuses and sparking a fire that was burning below. By the time fire crews arrived, the fire was already burning out of control and spreading through remote wilderness.
Within two weeks, the fire had become the fifteenth largest fire in California’s history, having burned through 200,000 acres, an area a little larger than New York City. The fire was threatening more than 800 homes and buildings. Evacuation orders were given to surrounding rural communities, as dangerous columns of smoke and ash known as “fire clouds” hampered firefighters’ containment efforts.
The Dixie Fire was a disaster waiting to happen.
In the months leading up to the Dixie Fire, both a federal court judge and the Public Utility Commission, the state regulator, had issued scathing reports castigating PG&E for not clearing hazardous vegetation on its highest-risk power lines, not coming close in meeting its promise to trim or remove more than one million trees, and for relying on hired contractors to do the work rather than hiring its own tree-trimming force.
In other words, PG&E had barely lifted a finger to reduce safety hazards that plague its enormous system. This is nothing new. The company’s decrepit and rundown equipment has a long history of igniting some of the most deadly fires in Northern California. In 2017, PG&E equipment was responsible for setting 17 major wildfires that together scorched 193,743 acres in eight counties, destroyed 3,256 structures and killed 22 people. In 2018, the Camp Fire, the deadliest in state history, was set off by a 115,000-volt line that was damaged and dislodged from a century-old tower. PG&E later pleaded guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter. (Dozens of families that had been forced from their homes by the 2018 Camp Fire have resettled in small towns that are now being threatened by the Dixie Fire.)
And in Sonoma County, the district attorney has filed criminal charges against PG&E over the 2019 Kincade fire, which was also sparked by the utility’s equipment. The Kincade fire burned more than 75,000 acres, destroyed nearly 400 structures and forced the evacuation of nearly 200,000 residents.
In response to the latest catastrophe, an outraged editorial in the Mercury News and East Bay Times stated, “With every passing day, it’s getting harder to tell which is worse for California’s forests, climate change or PG&E. The company’s negligence and incompetence during the last 10 years is directly responsible for killing more than 100 Californians and burning thousands of homes.”
No, these wildfire disasters are not caused by mere “negligence” and “incompetence,” but the corporate drive for profits and the enrichment of the capitalist class, which pushes companies to slash spending on safety ... guaranteeing ever-worsening catastrophes.