Here’s how PG&E negligence almost certainly led to the Dixie Fire


The Dixie Fire — now the second largest wildfire in California history — started on the morning of July 13. According to the electrical incident report from PG&E, the first sign of trouble was around 7 a.m. when “Cresta Dam off of Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon lost power.” A PG&E troubleman later discovered a tree had fallen on a distribution line that provided power to the Cresta Dam. It seemed as if the tree’s contact with the line started a fire.

PG&E operates 63 hydroelectric facilities in Tier 2 and Tier 3 high fire threat areas, know as “HFTD’s.” Twenty-four of its facilities are in Tier 3, which is the highest fire risk zone possible. “The Rock Creek-Cresta Hydroelectric Project” consists of the Rock Creek and Cresta reservoirs, dams and powerhouses. Cresta is one of PG&E’s Tier 3 hydroelectric facilities. That means it should have been a top priority for enhanced wildfire mitigation inspections, especially in the run-up to fire season. Not to mention, Cresta’s facilities are located in the Feather River Canyon — the same region where the deadly 2018 Camp Fire started.

In the months leading up to the Dixie Fire, however, PG&E wrote a letter to the CPUC admitting that it had “discovered” a mistake in its 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Plan: It had forgotten to include its hydroelectric substations.

Yes, you read that right. A multiple-time felon on probation and under heightened scrutiny for its wildfire mitigation efforts completely forgot to include some of its facilities in its master mitigation plan.

And it gets worse.

PG&E admitted that in 2020 it never inspected any of its hydroelectric substations in Tier 3 HFTDs, and it only inspected 20% of those in Tier 2. This, to put it mildly, is a major oversight.

The scope of a hydroelectric substation inspection under PG&E’s “Wildfire Safety Inspection Program” includes much more than just the substation. According to PG&E itself, it includes: “substations, switching stations, and hydroelectric facilities, with a specific focus on the failure mechanisms for transformers, conductors, connectors, insulators, switches, poles, and other equipment.”