On Wednesday night, the Kincade Fire exploded in Sonoma County. The blaze has burned some 10,000 acres and pushed small towns in the fire’s path to evacuate as it burns largely uncontrolled.
The fire comes as California utility PG&E began a second round of blackouts this month on Wednesday to prevent wildfires from sparking. While it’s unclear what the caused the Kincade Fire, its ignition underscores how even the power shutoffs aren’t enough to stop fires from igniting.
The Kincade Fire ballooned by 5,000 acres in the three hours after its ignition. That’s equivalent to a football field being lost every three seconds, and it’s kept growing rapidly overnight and into the morning hours. The event has prompted evacuations in Geyserville, a small town in Wine Country. Some 1,700 residents are under an evacuation order. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has been issuing evacuation updates on Twitter in Spanish, too, to ensure Latinx residents aren’t left behind in the disaster.
High winds helped push the fire quickly through the brush. The cause remains unknown at the moment, but San Francisco Chronicle reporter Matthias Gafni wrote on Twitter that there were “possible power lines down in the area,” according to the initial call the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection made for response units. While the PG&E blackout was set to hit the county by 3 p.m. local time Wednesday, it’s unclear if power was out in the entire county by the time the fire started. Earther has reached out to PG&E for comment.
Meanwhile, as the Kincade Fire continues to burn, much of the state remains on high alert for more wildfires. That means there’s potential for more. That’s why more utilities are resorting to blackouts. PG&E has shut off power to 17 counties as weather conditions have increased the risk for extreme fire. Southern California Edison—the electric utility that serves the greater Los Angeles area—announced Thursday morning it was cutting off power to more than 15,000 customers in five counties. It’s considering shutting off power to another 286,000 customers. San Diego Gas and Electric is also considering planned blackouts for more than 41,000 customers.
While it’s better to be safe than sorry, these companies could’ve also been proactive—instead of reactive—by improving infrastructure so its less susceptible to sparking fires. That’s especially true for PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy this year in wake of the deadly Camp Fire it helped spark.
Public officials aren’t happy about the blackouts, and they’re not going to sit back and let these utilities place their burden onto communities that have nothing to do with this mess. Governor Gavin Newsom wants PG&E to pay affected customers for their troubles, though the company has said it won’t. Climate change is here, so that means wildfire season is growing longer and more extreme. PG&E has said the blackouts could be a policy it resorts to for the next decade while it plays catch-up to make its infrastructure less fire prone. But these utilities can’t keep customers in the dark every time there’s a risk, can they?