California has a history of power lines or faulty equipment sometimes sparking wildfires, and a state fire agency recently pinned the blame on PG&E for at least 16 of last year's wildfires in Northern California, including some with fatalities.
PG&E is pushing to reform California laws that allow utilities to face significant liability in wildfire disasters. The state's largest utility appears to have some support from Gov. Jerry Brown, who in March suggested that lawmakers should "update liability rules and regulations for utility services," citing extreme weather and climate change.
A newly formed joint conference committee on wildfire issues is scheduled to meet Wednesday and state lawmakers will be looking at issues such as utility liability and accountability along with emergency preparedness and prevention. The panel will hear testimony from utilities, Cal Fire, the California Public Utilities Commission and wildfire experts.
"This is the hottest issue in Sacramento now," said Patrick McCallum, an education lobbyist and co-chair of “Up from the Ashes,” a coalition of fire victims, businesses, cities and counties. McCallum and his wife narrowly escaped from their burning home in the so-called Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa. Nine months later, McCallum is battling it out with his insurance companies as he recovers.
McCallum plans to testify during the public comment period at Wednesday's meeting.
California suffered one of its most destructive and deadly wildfire seasons ever last year with October's firestorms in the North Bay region and December's record-setting Thomas fire in Southern California. So far this year, the state is already trending above 2017 in terms of acreage losses and number of fires burned, according to Cal Fire.