85 dead as power lines keep sparking deadly outbreaks. Why don’t utility companies bury them?
Sacramento Bee – In many California communities, that question is being posed, often angrily, as evidence mounts that the state’s traditional overhead electrical power grid is at times a liability, culpable for starting some of the state’s biggest blazes.
Cal Fire investigators this summer said they believe at least 17 major wildfires in Northern California last year were caused by problems with power lines.
Southern California Edison officials acknowledged last month their equipment helped spark the Thomas Fire that raged through Ventura County in December, destroying 1,000 buildings and leading to a landslide that killed 22 people.
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In Butte County this week, some fingers are pointing at a malfunctioning Pacific Gas & Electric line as the possible launch pad for the worst fire in state history, the Camp Fire, which wiped out the town of Paradise, killing at least 63 people and destroying more than 9,700 homes.
The cause of that fire has not yet been determined, and investigators are pursuing several leads, including more than one ignition point.
State regulators point out that overall, only about 10 percent or less of the state’s wildfires are triggered by power line issues.
But they acknowledge the state’s 176,000-mile system of overhead electrified lines has played a role in igniting some of the biggest and most destructive fires in recent years.
So why not bury the problem?
One California utility company plans to do that. San Diego Gas & Electric officials said next year they will begin converting 20 miles of overhead wires to underground in a high fire-risk area around Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the town of Campo, where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Border Patrol has a station. Read more.