Camp Fire continues to influence PG&E’s power shutoff policy


Chuck Davis

“Sunset just days before the Camp fire. A prelude of what was coming?” Chuck Davis said.

PG&E continues its policy of “public safety power shutoffs” in an attempt to prevent NorCal fires, leaving over 700,000 California residents without power for up to four days.

In 2018, PG&E first implemented its power shutoff policy after it went bankrupt due to its involvement in starting the Camp Fire. The Camp Fire is known as the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in Californian history, as it burnt down 17,000 homes and killed 86 people in just a few days.

Denise Davis was one of the many that saw their lives permanently changed after the Camp Fire.

Before the Camp Fire, PG&E warned Paradise citizens that their power would be shut down. However, the shutoffs never occurred.

“Three days before the fire, we were getting automatic calls saying, ‘Oh, this is PG&E, and due to high winds, dryness, and the heat, we’re probably going to turn off your lines,’ but they never did,” Denise Davis said.

On Nov. 8, 2018, Denise Davis received a phone call from her friend at 7:50 a.m., warning her of the incoming danger.

“She told me that there’s going to be a big fire in Paradise,” Denise Davis said. “She told me I should call all my friends to tell them to get out because they’re not going to be able to stop it.”

Two of the houses that burnt down belonged to Denise Davis and her husband, Chuck Davis. Although one of their homes managed to survive, they were forced to flee and have not yet returned.

“From our house up for miles, it looked like a bomb landed there, and there was a pocket of two or three houses that survived. We had a lot of smoke damage, but it didn’t burn to the ground, unlike our two rental properties,” Denise Davis said.

Chuck Davis
This was originally one of the Davis family’s rental properties’ kitchen.

Despite the continuation of public safety power shutoffs, the program faces criticism.

“I think what PG&E is doing right now is being more cautious, but what they should have done was take care of their lines,” Denise Davis said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom shares a similar perspective, noting that PG&E is at fault.

“PG&E is in bankruptcy due to their terrible management that goes back decades. They’ve created these conditions; it was unnecessary,” Newsom said.

The California Public Utilities Commission has considered restructuring PG&E into a public utility to make sure they update their equipment regularly.

“PG&E can turn the power off and shut down the economy and livelihoods of millions in California, an action which may protect us from wildfire; or they can roll the dice and continue with the lights on, and risk an enormous fire starting from their power lines,” said State Senator Jerry Hill. “This situation is not acceptable nor sustainable. Public safety power shutoffs must be a surgical, last resort measure.”

As 2019 comes to a close and the debate over the power shutoffs continues, Denise Davis reflects on the lasting effects of the Camp Fire.

“Everything you saw on TV about the fire … it was 100 times worse when you go out there, it really was. You drive through and literally cry,” Denise Davis said.