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PG&E warns of downed power lines and fallen trees

Downed trees and branches covered in caution tape on Beulah St. in San Francisco
Wren Farrell
Downed trees covered in caution tape on Beulah St. in San Francisco

The worst of the “Pineapple Express” seems to have passed through the Bay Area, but Pacific Gas & Electric has warned customers to stay away from trees felled by the storm.

On Monday afternoon, the company announced over Twitter that all fallen trees and powerlines should be treated with caution: they may be energized and extremely dangerous. If you do see a downed line, you should report it to 911 and to PG&E, immediately.

Maintaining aging infrastructure and dealing with downed power lines has been an issue for PG&E for years.

Famously, the 2018 Camp Fire, which was the deadliest fire in California’s history, was caused by a faulty electric transmission line that PG&E failed to properly inspect. They’ve been blamed for more than 30 wildfires since 2017, and have reached more than $25 billion worth of settlements with wildfire victims.

That’s why, in 2023, PG&E announced its “system hardening” plan. It includes the installation of stronger poles, covered power lines, and burying others, in a process called “undergrounding.” The company says that undergrounding — which is when you literally bury power lines underground — reduces the risk of wildfires by 99 percent.

The plan received push back when it was announced that it would be paid for by raising customers rates. But in November of 2023, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to allow PG&E to bury more than 1,200 miles of power lines between 2023 and 2026 and to cover more than 700 miles of lines. The company says it plans to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in high risk fire areas. But none of those areas are in San Francisco.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 60,000 PG&E customers in the Bay Area still didn’t have power.

Wren Farrell (he/him) is a writer, producer and journalist living in San Francisco.