As the wildfires rampage across western parts of the United States, California's largest energy utility firm is set to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in a massive bid to prevent its equipment from igniting more deadly wildfires, the company CEO said Wednesday.
In 2018, the deadliest blaze in California's modern history, which swept through the northern Californian town of Paradise, killing 86 people, was sparked by faulty power lines of Pacific Gas and Electric.
Yet again, this week, PG&E equipment was blamed for one of the largest fires now blazing in California -- the Dixie Fire -- after a tree fell on a power conductor on the day the blaze began.
Announcing the measure, CEO Patti Poppe said the decision to bury the lines had been brought forward due to the "emotional toll" of the Dixie Fire, which is burning in the wildfire scars of the Paradise blaze.
"We are committing today to undertake one of the largest infrastructure projects in the history of our state," said Poppe at a press conference, according to AFP inputs.
"We are committing to bury 10,000 miles of lines, starting in our highest fire threat districts and our highest risk areas. We start today."
The project is expected to take a decade and cost tens of billions of dollars. California utilities have buried power lines before, but never approaching this scale.
Many of the major flames that have ravaged California in recent years have been blamed on the undeveloped areas near high-voltage lines, while lightning strikes were responsible for a substantial portion of last year's record fire season.
Meanwhile, in recent years, utility firms have taken to organizing pre-emptive blackouts during hot, windy conditions to prevent the spread of wildfire.
But Governor Gavin Newsom slammed the "scale and scope" of the unpopular measure in 2019, instead of blaming decades of "neglect" and "mismanagement" by PG&E.
PG&E acknowledged its equipment was to blame for the Paradise disaster and filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2019.
It struck an agreement with authorities to cover wildfire-related expenditures, as well as forest firefighting and the maintenance of electrical infrastructure implicated for multiple tragic fires.
Last year, the power company and local prosecutors entered a separate plea bargain over the Paradise disaster, admitting to 84 counts of homicide and one count of unlawful arson.
More than 300,000 acres have burned in California so far this year -- far ahead of the same period in 2020, itself the worst year in modern state history for wildfire destruction.