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Are PG&E power shutoffs working to stop wildfires?

A former Cal Fire chief says in the short term, yes, power shutoffs are working. But for the long-term much more needs to be done.

STOCKTON, Calif. — As California wildfires burn through another record-breaking year of acreage, more than 2.2 million acres to date, some people are wondering: is Pacific Gas and Electric Company's (PG&E) power shutoffs a necessary tool to prevent an even worse catastrophe?

"The short term is this is what PG&E is doing to immediately protect life and property," said Ken Pimlott, former Cal Fire Director.

Pimlott spent more than 31 years with Cal Fire, the final eight as director, before retiring two years ago. Now running for a seat on the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, he says, yes, turning off power in fire-prone areas is the right thing to do for now.

"PG&E infrastructure, other infrastructure, just were never designed to withstand the kinds of weather being put up against as well as some of this is aging infrastructure," Pimlott said.

Pimlott says utilities like PG&E must keep up with changing weather conditions, like severe winds coupled with extreme heat, by upgrading their equipment.

"And, to continue to provide the maintenance and vegetation management around older infrastructure as following their vegetation management plan," added Pimlott.

And that is a monumental task with PG&E owning more than 106,000 miles of electrical distribution lines.

"Certainly, there's a lot of work there. And it's going to take time and a significant amount of effort. That effort not only needs to be continued, but it needs to be amplified to reach that ultimate goal. But here's where we have to go. And, yes, over time it can be done, but it needs to be the commitment that happens," said Pimlott.

Then there is the other key to lessening California's fire danger and, as a result, lessening the chances of a power shut off. That is relying more on prescribed burns and thinning out vegetation.

"We have to put more prescribed fires on the ground to reduce the fuel loading," Pimlott said.

The bottom line is, Pimlott says it is up to everyone to do their part in preventing California wildfires and take fire season seriously.

"Everyone needs to be treating Red Flag Warnings and these north winds no different than a hurricane or a tornado," Pimlott said.

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