Wednesday, August 4

California Prepares to Bury 10,000 Miles of Power Lines as Wildfires Force New Evacuations | Climate crisis in the American West

A wildfire in northern California crossed into Nevada, prompting new evacuations, but better weather has helped crews fight the nation’s largest wildfire in southern Oregon.

Meanwhile, California’s top utility provider PG&E announced a multi-million dollar effort to bury 10,000 miles (16,000 km) of its power lines, after its electrical equipment was once again blamed for starting a separate fire quickly. growth in the north of the state. this.

There are dozens of fires throughout the western United States. The Tamarack Fire, which crossed into Nevada, is burning south of Lake Tahoe and had burned more than 68 square miles (176 square kilometers) of head-level wood and chaparral on national forest lands as of Thursday. It erupted on July 4 and was one of nearly two dozen fires caused by lightning.

More than 1,200 firefighters were fighting the Alpine County fire, which destroyed at least 10 buildings, forced evacuations in several communities and closed parts of US 395 in Nevada and California. Firefighters were expecting active or extreme fire behavior Thursday, which could see winds of 14 mph (23 km / h) and temperatures close to 90 ° F (32 ° C).

Morgana-Le-Fae Veatch, an evacuee, said she had already packed most of her belongings because she will start community college next week, but her parents lost their home in a fire in 1987.

“So this has been very, very stressful for them,” he said.

To the northwest, the summer fun of boating and bathing came to an abrupt end for vacationers on Lake Almanor when the Dixie fire swept up the western flank of the Sierra Nevada, expanding to more than 162 square miles. The complex’s west shore of the lake and many other small communities were under evacuation orders.

Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility provider, recently informed state regulators that the Dixie fire started after a 70-foot (23-meter) pine tree fell on one of its power lines. The state’s largest power company has long faced criticism for its team’s role in starting devastating fires, including the 2018 Camp fire that killed more than 80 people and destroyed thousands of homes in and around the city of Paradise. .

The daunting project to bury power lines, announced Wednesday, aims to bury about 10% of PG & E’s transmission and distribution lines at a projected cost of $ 15 billion to $ 30 billion, based on the current cost of the process. . Previous PG&E regimes have staunchly resisted plans to bury long stretches of power lines because of the expense involved.

But the company’s recently hired CEO, Patricia “Patti” Poppe, said Wednesday that she had quickly realized after joining PG&E in January that moving the underground lines was the best way to protect both the utility company. public as the 16 million people who depend on it for energy.

“It is too expensive not to. Lives are at stake, ”Poppe told reporters. PG&E said only that burying the lines would take several years.

Meanwhile, Oregon on Wednesday banned all bonfires on state-administered lands and in state campgrounds east of Interstate 5, the main highway commonly considered the dividing line between the wet western part of the state and the eastern half. dry.

The nation’s largest wildfire, the Oregon Bootleg Fire, grew to 624 square miles, a little more than half the size of Rhode Island.

However, authorities said lower winds and temperatures allowed crews to improve fire lines. The blaze was also approaching an area burned by a previous blaze on its active southeast flank, raising hopes that a lack of fuel could slow its spread.

The Oregon Fire, which was started by lightning, has devastated the sparsely populated southern part of the state and has expanded up to four miles a day, pushed by high winds and a critically dry climate that turned trees and undergrowth into a tinderbox.

Fire crews have had to withdraw from the flames for 10 consecutive days when fireballs leap from canopy to canopy, trees explode, embers fly past the fire to start new flames, and in some cases, the heat of the fire. Hell creates its own climate of changing winds. and dry lightning. Monstrous clouds of smoke and ash have risen up to six miles into the sky and are visible for more than 100 miles.

The fire, which is being fought by more than 2,200 people, is contained in more than a third.

At least 2,000 homes were ordered to be evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 were threatened. At least 70 houses and more than 100 outbuildings have caught fire, but no one is known to have died.

Extremely dry conditions and recent heat waves linked to the climate crisis have made wildfires more difficult to fight. Climate change has made the west much hotter and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

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