What failed — and why?

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - OPINION -

Adeadly dis­as­ter on the scale of the Wine Coun­try wild­fires needs a prob­ing ex­am­i­na­tion. How it started is un­clear, though wind-snapped power lines are a prime sus­pect. Also, as the flames took strength, a timely warn­ing sys­tem proved spotty and ill-suited in alert­ing thou­sands to evac­u­ate.

In each case, there must be a thor­ough re­view that can guide fu­ture pre­cau­tions. Lives were lost, homes burned and busi­nesses de­stroyed.

Spark­ing power lines knocked down by heavy winds are noth­ing new. Pa­cific Gas and Elec­tric Co. ac­knowl­edges the blus­tery weather on Sun­day night dam­aged its util­ity net­work in the ar­eas where a string of fires started mo­ments apart.

It will be up to the state Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion to take mat­ters fur­ther. The util­ity is obliged to main­tain its lines, free of veg­e­ta­tion that can shear wires and touch off wild­fires. PG&E has paid hefty fines in the past for cut­ting back on main­te­nance that led to blazes.

It’s not just the util­ity, but the com­mis­sion that needs to per­form. Its over­sight of PG&E was de­plorably lax, as the 2010 San Bruno gas pipe­line ex­plo­sion demon­strated.

That dis­as­ter led to new lead­er­ship and ori­en­ta­tion, at both the com­mis­sion and PG&E, that face a test in de­ter­min­ing if util­ity er­rors are re­spon­si­ble.

The warn­ing sys­tem also needs a re­view. An areaw­ide alert was held back out of fear it would lead too many peo­ple to clog roads. Other tac­tics tar­geted those in the fire’s path but failed to reach ev­ery­one. A more de­pend­able and ef­fi­cient sys­tem must be iden­ti­fied — and in­stalled in short or­der.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.