Friday night wind gusts of 55-miles an hour forced mandatory Wine Country evacuations as PG&E warned their electrical lines are only rated up to handle 56-mile an hour winds.
Breitbart News reported that Wine Country temperatures were expected to steadily rise by 14 degrees and winds gusts could hit 60-miles an hour over the weekend. But as temperatures began to rise and wind gusts rose up to 55-miles per hour on Friday night, the National Weather Service raised its Sunday and Monday forecasted highs by 2 degrees to 88-degrees. The higher temperatures increase the risk of stronger winds.
Pacific Gas & Electric stock (PCG: NYSE) plunged by 17 percent over the last two days after reports that Sonoma and Napa County emergency dispatchers sent crews out on Tuesday and Wednesday to investigate reports of over a dozen down powerlines and numerous exploding transformers as wind gusts may have magnified the firestorm.
PG&E told the local Fox News affiliate, “The historic wind event that swept across PG&E service area late Sunday and early Monday packed hurricane-strength winds in excess of 75 mph in some cases.” The wind speeds are important because powerlines under California Public Utility rules must be rated to sustain 56-miles an hour winds for 60 seconds. Hurricane winds are defined as a minimum of 75-miles per hour winds for a 60 second period.
PG&E blamed high winds for downing powerlines after five years of drought, coupled with “recent renewed vegetation growth from winter storms,” contributed to “trees, branches and debris impacting our electric lines across the North Bay.” Their spokesman added, “Where those have occurred, we have reported them to the CPUC and CalFire. Our thoughts are with all those individuals who were impacted by these devastating wildfires.”
CalFire, that coordinates state and local fire authority response, responded to press inquiries by stating its investigators are out in the field and have not ruled out any cause for the fire.
But liability attorney Frank Pitre told the Mercury News that “This is classic PG&E — trying to spin things without first taking a look at the hard facts.” He claims that the wind gusts peaked at only 32 miles per hour, meaning that the “winds were well within the threshold of design standards. If they failed, this was a failure in their system.”
PG&E in 2015 paid a record Public Utility Commission fine $1.6 billion for the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that caused the death of 8 people and an $8.3 million fine for the Butte Fire that burned 71,000 acres and destroyed 921 structures. In both cases, PG&E did not communicate quickly enough the contributing failure of its infrastructure.
The potential liability for PG&E in the Wine Country fires could be extraordinary. Northern California’s 2015 Valley and Butte fires that burned 150,000 acres, caused 8 deaths, destroyed 2,776 structures was estimated by California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones to have caused about $1 billion in insurance losses. But this year’s Wine Country fires have burned at least 178,000 acres, caused 36 deaths, left 250 missing and destroyed at least 6,400 structures.
The Valley and Butte fires were mostly in very rural or mountainous areas where homes are relatively inexpensive for the state. But this year’s fires have burned through the heart of the California’s fabled Wine Country where a 1,412 square-foot postage stamp 2 bedroom home in Napa is offered for $838,0000, and many “sustainable” homes are offered from $2.3 million to $9.8 million.