Brian Dahle: Wildfire safety is everyone’s responsibility

This week, thousands of firefighters are putting their lives on the line to battle more than two dozen major wildfires in California. Since January, more than 8,000 wildfires have scorched three and half million acres, claimed at least 26 lives and destroyed more than 6,700 homes or businesses in our state.

On October 30, last year, I held a town hall meeting in Nevada County at a food store that had more than once lost upwards of $50,000 dollars worth of food because the power was shut off. I heard very clearly from my constituents that something needed to be done. So I went back to Sacramento and worked with Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood to hold the utilities accountable and force them to clean up their properties. We went to the Public Utilities Commission and demanded PG&E clear out the hazards under their lines so they could safely scale back power shut offs. We found a bi-partisan solution and hoped to see progress before the next fire season.

One of the ways the utilities like PG&E reduce that risk are through vegetation management efforts, by keeping power lines clear of trees and limbs that pose ignition an risk by contacting a line, starting a fire.

All too often in communities throughout Northern California, radical special interest groups try to block or stop this important wildfire safety work — and it’s happening again, this time in Nevada County.

A group called Save Nevada City Trees filed a lawsuit and so far has stopped PG&E from removing unsafe trees that increase the potential of electrical lines falling in a windstorm and starting a wildfire in Nevada City. This is a horrible idea and a potentially deadly mistake.

In addition to removing a serious safety risk of trees or limbs falling onto lines or people, removing these trees would also enable PG&E to narrow the scope of Public Safety Power Shutoff events in Nevada County. In fact, once they remove these hazardous trees, the utility will likely no longer need to shut off power in a PSPS event to critical government services including the city’s government center, the jail, the sheriff’s department and Nevada County Office of Emergency Services.

But now, in the midst of what’s already proving to be another devastating wildfire season, that critical public safety utility work has been stopped by Save Nevada City Trees, leaving all Nevada City residents and the community vulnerable to wildfire power shutdowns and catastrophic fire.

They can’t have it both ways. People can’t continue to demand that utility companies mitigate the risk created by electric infrastructure, and then stand in their way of doing this important safety work. We can’t continue like this. I have walked through Happy Camp, Paradise, and Redding and I can tell you that Nevada City and Grass Valley are at the top of the list for cities that could be wiped off the face of the earth if a fire gets started.

We should be doing everything we can to reduce the load of forest fuels; and those who want to ignore science, ignore common sense, and ignore history should be not be allowed place their twisted values on the rest of us by gaming the legal system. These people are not “saving” trees they are perpetuating a anti-environment, anti-good neighbor philosophy that has ruined our forests and watersheds and killed thousands of forest animals. They are not “saving” anything.

Brian Dahle is a Republican representing the 1st District, encompassing the Shasta Cascade region and the northern Sierra Nevada.

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