Our View: Fire forces us to find a common goal | TheUnion.com

Our View: Fire forces us to find a common goal

Usually, you’d have to visit another planet to sit under an alien sky.

Not so in Nevada County.

Fires raging in other counties brought thick haze and ominous clouds to our area earlier this week. You’d have thought a biblical seal had been broken. At one point the temperature seemed to drop 10 degrees within minutes. People clutched their go bags and waited for the signal.

That is, if they had electricity to get a signal.

The first PG&E Public Safety Power Shut-off of the season could have been worse. That’s not exactly high praise for the utility company, but compared to last year, it would have needed to work pretty hard to sink any lower.

PG&E dropped the ball, badly, during last year’s PSPS season. Bad communication, a lack of specifics about when the power would get cut and including wide swaths of land in the shut-off all topped the list.

At least PG&E seems to have learned from its mistakes. We saw improvements in this week’s shut-off. For example, Nevada City’s 7 Hills business district and downtown remained open because it had electricity. That wasn’t the case last year.

There also were some people who likely would have been without power if not for a change in who gets left in the dark. Instead they had lights, A/C and just enough anger to shake their fist at the outdoor wind chime that didn’t get the memo from PG&E about high winds.

It’s easy to blame meteorologists when the wind — or rain, or snow, or sunshine — doesn’t appear as predicted. Unfortunately, until those forecasters fine tune their crystal balls, this is what we’re stuck with.

And, compared to last year, PG&E has significantly improved its timing for power restoration. Remember last autumn, when some people went several days without electricity? Local stores couldn’t keep generators on the shelves. At least this time around people weren’t left without power for days, then told it would be a few more once the Red Flag Warning ended, because PG&E had to check the lines.

But don’t think we came here to praise PG&E. We came here to bury its power lines. Or, as it’s said, use improved technology to better target the Public Safety Power Shut-offs. Or avoid cutting an area’s power once the weather forecast changes, and it’s no longer needed.

PG&E needs to work with the communities it serves to find the best way to stop fires before they begin. Those communities have already let the utility know that cutting electricity for several days isn’t acceptable.

PG&E has taken the first step. We need to help it take the next.

Some Nevada City residents have already taken it. They’ve let their council members know they don’t want trees chopped down to improve fire safety.

PG&E, through its representative, might as well have issued its decree by royal fiat. This is not the best way to handle a delicate situation, especially since it wasn’t that long ago the governor of California called for breaking up PG&E.

Why not provide a cost estimate of what it takes to put the power lines underground? Talk about where the money would come from? Who will accept liability if a tree falls on a power line and starts a fire? You know, talk it out instead of having both sides position their attorneys like tin soldiers and mouth what they think they law states.

If we’re going to keep our community fire safe, we need to work together on a common goal. Let’s talk about what that goal would be, reach a compromise and work toward it.

The sky may look alien, but we’re not. The person who wants a tree knocked down, or kept standing, is your neighbor. We’re all part of the same town, the same county. We should have an agreed upon set of goals.

It’s past time we start acting like we do.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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