California governor Gavin Newsom announced a state of emergency on Sunday as a wildfire in Sonoma County north of San Fransisco forced the evacuation of thousands of people.
“We are deploying every resource available, and are coordinating with numerous agencies as we continue to respond to these fires,” Newsom said in his declaration.
Approximately 180,000 people were evacuated from the vicinity of the Kincade fire in Sonoma County, bringing traffic on highways to a near standstill.
Utility company PG&E Corp., which is currently bankrupt, has shut off power to approximately 965,000 homes and businesses, or about 2.5 million people, across the state in order to avoid sparking more fires. The company’s faulty equipment has been blamed for past wildfire outbreaks.
“We recognize the hardship of not having power,” said Andrew M. Vesey, president of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the main subsidiary of PG&E. “We are working hard with all our partners to ensure the most vulnerable customers are being cared for.”
California is the tech capital of the country, with companies like Apple and Facebook headquartered in Silicon Valley south of San Francisco. However, the main utility company in the state lags behind in technological methods to track and reduce the safety risks posed by fires.
Under California law, utility companies are liable for damages if their equipment sparks wildfires even in the absence of negligence. Fires thus present a serious financial risk to the companies, which PG&E has decided to aggressively combat by means of mass power outages.
PG&E provides electricity to about 16 million, or one in 20 Americans.
Newsom has lashed out at the company, saying that PG&E’s “greed and mismanagement over the course of decades” created a situation that “no state in the 21st century should experience.”
Meanwhile, dry weather and high winds threatened to create conditions for even more fires.